Thursday, 20 April 2017

"My Place" at the Grammar School

I attended a village primary school in Essex. The headmaster's daughter was in my class and we were best friends. In the run up to the 11 plus test I remember her telling me that her dad had been giving her lots of tests to do at home and she was irritated because it took time away from her other interests. The rest of us only did one practice run and then sat the test. 

I was later told that I had achieved the highest mark and had won the place to go to grammar school. The headmaster called my parents in and explained to them that the school was a long way from where we lived and that they might not be able to manage the transport costs, and might therefore prefer to send me to the local secondary modern which was being converted into a comprehensive school that year. They agreed and I went to the local school. You can guess who got 'my place' at the grammar school.  

I did well at my comprehensive school, got 3 grade A levels, went to University and eventually obtained a doctorate. I never saw my 'best friend' from primary school again, but I know she is now a successful medical doctor. I'd like to meet her one day and discuss what happened; neither of us was really aware at the time of the significance of this sequence of events, I expect. I'm still struggling with what my story means both in my life and in terms of the education system in this country but now that grammars are being discussed again, I think it is important to revisit how the system might be used to disadvantage working class children in the future. 


1 comment:

  1. I was a bright child and my mother taught me to read before I went to school - with Noddy. I was reading Sunny Stories, and girls' annuals, with stories several pages long, by the time I was five. We were living in one room at the top of a multi-occupied house in South Kensington at this time and I went to the local church school. I loved school, but changed school 3 times. The seoond one decided I could not read and put me in remedial classes - I was born with a cleft palette. At the next school I was put in the B stream and stayed there. I just failed the 11+, which meant if I had been a boy I would have passed. My teacher, perhaps feeling bad, recommended Northfields Girls School and told my mother to send me there. I seemed to be expected (letter from Head, I suspect) and was put in what I now realise was the grammar stream. French, Eng Lit (monthly comprehension on whole book, class reader, plays) and Lang (writing stories, vocab, but no grammar as 'old fashioned'). At 15 there was no question but I would do GCEs and got 6 (I failed French twice in the lower sixth), 4 As, 1B and 1C (Art). I did 3 A levels, history, English and Historyof Art and went to university at 18. I followed that up with two higher degrees.
    At prize giving a Conservative coucillor said secondary moderns were working because she saw girls training to be teachers and nurses, and one undergraduate (me). I disagreed with her profoundly, and was not the only one. We had been thrown on the scrap heap by the 11+ and only a lucky choice of school had rescued us.
    Unfortunately comprehensives do not seem much better - for many it is a sec mod education, and the behaviour in the school would never have been tolerated in my school.