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‘My class was in tears when we took the 11-plus’ – one grammar school student is in two minds about selection

I’ve had a great education, writes a Year 12 pupil, but the system is rife with unfairness

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I’ve had a great education, writes a Year 12 pupil, but the system is rife with unfairness

As a student in my penultimate year at a grammar, my attitude towards lifting the ban on more selective schools is mixed.

To pretend that grammar schools don’t result in a certain element of cultural and socio-economic elitism would be to deny the obvious, but to pretend that there aren’t any benefits would also be disingenuous.

I have loved most of my school days, and to mention only the criticisms of grammar schools would feel dishonest, especially after personally benefiting from all the system's advantages and not complaining.

However, it has to be said that the 11-plus places intense pressure on children of such a young age. For me and many of my peers, the prospect of failing seemed like the end of the world – most of my class cried hysterically for the entire duration of the 11-plus maths exam.

Widespread tutoring 

Many of the students had been having tutoring for months, if not years, in advance, placing them under huge amounts of pressure but also giving them a massive advantage over other children whose families couldn’t afford such extra help.

I can remember being so worried that, a couple of weeks before the test, my mum and I tore all my practice papers into little pieces. The point she was trying to make was that nothing was worth getting that upset about. But it truly felt like it was at the time.



The wider issues with a selective system hadn’t always occurred to me; after all it was set up to offer a higher standard of education to those who wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise. In some ways that goal has been achieved: I know because I have witnessed it.

But this isn’t the full picture.

While it is true that some grammars help some individuals, how can they be truly justified if the local comprehensives suffer as a result? 

High-quality education for all

All children deserve a high standard of education. Different schools may have to adapt the style of education they deliver – for example, increased access to vocational subjects for particular students in non-grammar schools – but the quality of education should be consistent for all.

If the outcome of selection is that only some students have access to a high standard of education, particularly if that group is predominantly middle class, then there is surely little justification for increasing 11-plus selection around the country.

My school has especially high standards and expectations, and while the pressure of not wanting to let your school down can be daunting and stressful, I have survived.

I have no doubt that I have benefited from my education, but to fully support grammar schools as a whole would be to ignore the wider ingrained systemic problems with selection.

Unless a truly egalitarian approach can be found that creates a genuinely fair way of organising selection (which I’m not entirely sure exists) then the answer to the question of more grammar schools has to be "No".

May Tolfrey is a pseudonym. She is in Year 12 at a grammar school in Kent

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