This post is really a question. A question with an open-ended answer. In fact, this post is an open-ended question with an open-ended answer. It is not a yes-or-no type of column, but rather a what-do-you-think and how-do-you-feel kind of outing.
I have written on this blog at length about the challenges an immigrant faces in their new country of residence. It does not matter whether they are a new arrival or an “oldie”, like me. In my case one subject about which I have always been confused is education. Despite the fact that for the last twelve and a half years I have worked with or, for the last seven, in schools. It is the sheer variety of school types that throws me off. That is why tonight my post will be rather short. I would like you to give me your opinion on the subject I am about to introduce. Especially, if you were born in this country or did your schooling here, I would love to have your input. Whether I agree with your comments or not is not the point, for I am looking for open-ended answers to my open-ended questions.
In a nutshell, schools in England (I use England as in the country or England, not the UK because differences exist between the four home nations; just to make matters more confusing!) can be community schools, which means that they are under the control of the local authority. I work in one and my children attend one. They are what you would call in other countries “state schools”. There are also voluntary aided schools, i.e., “faith schools”. They are run like state schools but are free to teach only about their own religion. Then you have “public schools”, a name that is so confusing that I have had to learn the etymology of the phrase by heart in order to explain it to non-Brits. This type of school is a fee-paying establishment (private) that differs from a "normal" private one in that its main aim is to educate students from low-income backgrounds (the "public" bit). I mentioned “private schools”. Self-explanatory really. You pay a fee as well but this is for the benefit of the owner. Have I not exhausted you yet? Shall I carry on? OK, I'm getting there, don't worry. In recent years we have had academies and free schools. The former do not follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times. They are managed by the government directly, not by the local authority. Free schools are government-funded, not-for-profit entities that can be set up by a charity, or a group of teachers or parents, or a religious organisation.
And then we have grammar schools. Nothing to do with the correct use of the verb “to have” in the third person singular or second person plural. It is all to do with selection. That is how this post came about. I read in the paper a few days ago that the government was planning to open an “extension” to a current grammar school in Kent and my immigrant’s mind was suddenly tickled. The brouhaha this attracted centred chiefly on whether opening grammar schools would entrench inequality or eliminate it. I asked work colleagues, born and raised here, what this meant to them. Some could not give two monkeys about the subject and others were disappointed after hearing the news. A grammar school is run by a local council, foundation or trust, but (and here’s the rub) selects its pupil intake based on an entry exam. How students fare in this exam is down to both academic ability and… means to achieve that academic ability. Without mentioning names, I know of one much-coveted school that applies such criteria and for which parents start preparing their child from Year 4 or 5 before they sit the exam in Year 6. A lot of money goes into hiring private tutors who fine-tune their little ones into the not-so-subtle art of passing an 11-plus test.
Is this fair? Of course this question is open to all, wherever you are in the world. But since this blog is visited and read by so many bloggers born on these isles, I would really like to read your opinions. What do you think about this new direction the government is taking in regards to our education system? How do you feel about it? Should we worry?
Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 28th October at 6pm (GMT)