'I was naive to think this is a test of ability': parents share their grammar school woes

18th October 2016 at 18:35
parents concerns about grammar school tests
Campaigners gather parents to compare experiences of putting their children through the 11-plus exam, saying selective education creates 'clear winners and losers'

A father worried about his 10-year-old's panicky internet searches for 'how to cope'; another parent who spent thousands on tutoring and a dad whose son sobbed when he failed.

These are among the parents whose experiences of putting their children through the 11-plus exam have been collected by campaigners ahead of a meeting in the House of Commons tonight.

Campaign group Comprehensive Future is organising the event so that parents living in grammar school areas can share their concerns about selective education with MPs.

Speaking before the event, one father told how his son, Tom,* took the test this year, and failed.

“My son found out last week that he was not ‘deemed appropriate’ for grammar school education,” he said.

“When we opened the email together, he immediately told us he was fine, he was happy. Later that night he came downstairs, and confessed that when he said he was happy he hadn’t been truthful. He sobbed.”

Tom’s father described the system as “damaging”, adding: “The level of coaching that happens here shocked me and I feel I was naïve to think this really is a test of ability.”

Tonight's meeting comes after the government sparked a huge debate when it announced plans to increase the number of grammar schools and launched a consultation on the idea.

But education secretary Justine Greening has said that any new grammar school would be unlikely to be able to select pupils using just a simple 11 plus exam as it exists today.

Melissa Benn, chair of Comprehensive Future, said: “Selection was phased out in most of the country 50 years ago because it was unpopular and unworkable. We have a government that wants to bring back selection, but it’s a system that creates clear winners and losers before the children leave primary school and it is no way to run a modern education system.”

The meeting is due to take place on the same evening as a champagne reception for the Grammar School Heads Association, also at the House of Commons.  On its website, the association says that the event and the preceding seminar, will "provide an opportunity to informally extend understanding of our situation and to increase the numbers supporting us in these areas".

It comes as analysis by the BBC shows that admissions policies in 90 of the 163 existing grammar schools do not consider a child’s eligibility for free school meals.

A spokesperson for the DfE said: "Every child, regardless of their background, should have access to an excellent education. Grammar schools provide opportunities for disadvantaged pupils, helping to all but eliminate the attainment gap between them and their better off classmates.

"However, thousands of children are missing out on a place at a grammar because of the current ban on allowing new selective schools, which means many families are not being given a true choice.

"Our new approach is not about recreating the binary system of the past or maintaining the status quo. We want to look at how we can ensure new selective schools prioritise the admission of pupils from lower income households and support other local pupils in non-selective schools to help raise standards.”

* Not his real name

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