Life blighted by 11-plus stigma

9th April 2004 at 01:00
I was disappointed to read that the grammar school sector is expanding (TES, March 26).Like many people of my age I failed the 11-plus.

I grew up under governments which believed in the tripartite system, based on the, now totally discredited, theories of Cyril Burt. Worse still, I lived in an area of the country with very poor grammar school provision and I was born in a "bulge year". The exam that condemned me was only at best 50 per cent accurate.

My first day at my secondary modern school began with an assembly where I was told that, "the system had proved that I was not academic nor technical but that I would be good with my hands". After five years at a school where it was deemed by the system that not one pupil was worth even the opportunity to take any GCE qualifications I left, along with many others, with no academic qualifications whatsoever.

However, my local college of further education offered some hope. The college had been given permission, that very year, to provide secondary modern school leavers with a two-year course offering eight GCE subjects.

After two years I obtained eight excellent O-levels. I was not alone.

Results were excellent, indeed better than those from the local grammar school.

Later I trained as a teacher. I was not allowed to take the, then new, BEd degree, as I did not have O-level French or use of English, two subjects I had not been offered. I therefore had to be content with the Certificate in Education.

To cut a very long story short, to make up for a lack of equal opportunity, I was forced to self-finance an Open University degree and an MEd, in a traditional university. The whole process took me a further six years and cost me an amazing amount of money and self- sacrifice. I was a very good teacher and won promotion very quickly. I then financed and completed a specialist, part-time, diploma at my local polytechnic which invited me to lecture on BEd and Masters degree courses. I went on to work in the international education system. At the age of 45 I had finally shaken off the stigma of the 11-plus. Or had I?

I am now 57 and back in Britain and my 11-plus failure follows me still. I recently heard a school governor say that "teaching and schools in general went downhill when they allowed secondary modern kids to become teachers".

In an era of litigation and a claims culture I am amazed that no one has ever taken the Government to court and claimed for the damage done to thousands of individuals and to this country as a whole. If I had the money I know I would, if only to win an apology for having been educated in a system that condemned me to years of lack of equal opportunity, stigma and prejudice.

Jim Barrett 6 Bridge View Warkworth Northumberland

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