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Wednesday, September 1, 1999 Published at 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK


Grammar schools: Head to head

The future of selective education is a controversial issue

Parents campaigning to abolish selective education can now start drawing up petitions as a first step towards getting rid of grammar schools.

The issue is emotive, and has sparked vigorous reaction from those both for and against grammar schools.

Some people feel grammar schools are elitist, and that the 11-plus entrance exam is unfair, while others believe that the high standards often achieved by grammar schools can only be maintained if selection continues.

BBC News Online pitches two opposing views on the subject from people in two of the areas where the first formal steps are being taken towards ending selection.

Martin Frey, spokesman for Stop The Eleven Plus (STEP) in Kent, wants to see an end to selective education, while Gerald Ford, head of Parents' Alliance for Choice in Education (PACE) in Trafford, wants grammar schools to stay.

Martin Frey, spokesman for STEP in Kent:

STEP has today officially triggered the process which could lead to the end of selection in Kent.

We believe that the grammar/secondary modern system serves our needs very badly - we have the worst educated work force in the South East according to the Training and Enterprise Council (TEC) and remain relatively poor by Southern standards despite being the gateway to Europe.

The main reason for this backwardness is the 11-plus and the grammar schools. We regularly see our grammar schools producing results that are in the top 200 of all schools in England and this has fooled us into thinking that all is well, but many grammar schools are very weak, despite these results.

They are also responsible for the existence of secondary modern schools. Many of these have been classified as being in need of much improvement and it is to these weak schools that we send the majority our most disadvantaged children - a recipe for despair.

Kent has few of the problems faced by the inner cities - yet 14 of our schools perform worse than the lowest performing school in Hackney.

STEP wants to bring comprehensive education to Kent so we can share in the rapid rise in standards achieved by the rest of England.

Gerald Ford, head of PACE in Trafford:

Even in primary schools there is streaming. If grammar schools are abolished, we will get to a situation where if we lump everybody in together, those at lowest end of the spectrum will get left behind, or vice versa.

If grammar school teachers had to teach semi-literate, semi-numerate children coming into the school, they wouldn't have a clue at first.

And it's been proven over the years that selection is what parents want.

The old chestnut about children feeling a failure if they don't pass their 11-plus is rubbish - the children don't see it as a stigma.

When children are streamed on arrival at comprehensive schools into streams A, B and C or whatever, they are not seen as failures if they are in stream C. Why should this be any different?

This government is introducing testing even at nursery level - isn't that worse than children being tested at 11? Why is it the 11-plus that is seen as so bad?

Bright children that at the moment go to grammar schools and excel would not get the same opportunities at some comprehensives.

Trafford came 12th out of 149 in a league table of local education authority results. Trafford's grammar schools achieve some of the best GCSE and A level results in the country.

The reason why Trafford gets such good results is because of the current system, where the grammar schools work in conjunction with the comprehensives.

What we've got is working very well. Why should someone come along and change it? Mediocrity for all will be the result.

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Parents' Alliance for Choice in Education (Trafford)

Stop The Eleven Plus (Kent)

BBC News Online Talking Point: Should grammar schools be abolished?

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