What keeps me awake at night - The return of old class divisions

15th March 2013 at 00:00

In the 1970s, my dad went to work every day. He didn't tell me much about what went on, but I knew it was important because most of the good bits in my life (holidays, the odd meal out, Christmas) depended on his doing so.

The dole queue leading to the Social Security Office (next to my secondary school) took up the last quarter mile of my three-mile journey. And if my dad was in that queue I walked past him without saying a word. If I left school early, I would walk back among pit-black miners coming home from their shifts. And if my dad was among them, I would ignore him then, too. We ignored our dads because our expectations of what a dad should be like changed when we put on our posh school uniform (which our dads had paid for).

The last part of my walk to school led to two gates. On the left was the entrance to the grammar school; on the right, to the secondary modern. In my first year, friendships held fast, goodbyes were said at the gates. By my second year we walked in separate groups, exchanging insults with the people we had sat with every day at junior school.

It's why I hate grammar schools: the notion that you educate children out of a class into which they were born, rather than educating a society away from its whole notion of class. But inequality holds children back now just as much as it ever did.

Today, of course, it's more benign. We all talk about valuing our students equally; at options evenings we discuss routes best matched to aptitude and ability. We tell our children that they will all get a chance to succeed at what they are best at doing. But we lie.

Because when I saw the Ofsted School Data Dashboard for the first time last week, I found that students who do BTEC science don't count in its reductive, bean-counting measurements, so my school is placed in the bottom 40 per cent of schools nationally for science. It has also been reported that 60 per cent of schools are cutting vocational qualifications, even though most believe they are of value to children.

This is putting in place a system - like the one we had in the 1970s - that divides children into those who can do academic subjects and those who can't; those who will succeed and those who won't. If you aren't academically able then your options have just got a whole lot narrower.

If we do not value all our children, if we judge schools on the narrowest possible range of criteria, then we will recreate a system that was among the most socially divided in the Western world. This issue is well worth losing sleep over.

And I'm sorry, Dad.

The writer is a headteacher in Norfolk. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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