We don’t need no (selective) education…

Further to my earlier post, it turns out that my old school is planning to expand using taxpayers’ money. As someone who had a thoroughly miserable time there and was turned into a lifelong opponent of grammar schools by the experience, I’ve contributed to their consultation thusly.

I am writing to object to the proposed expansion of the school in the strongest possible terms. I was a pupil between 1985 and 1992, and my experience there during that time has convinced me that grammar schools are a grossly unfair anachronism that should be abolished. The use of taxpayers’ money to fund an expansion is something I can never support.

I remain entirely unconvinced that the government’s policies to broaden access will be effective. During my time at the school, practically none of the pupils came from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that did struggled in the school’s harsh environment. In my own class, one boy was prevented from sitting any GCSEs at all, and therefore left the school at 16 with no qualifications. This was entirely due to the concern the school had about its reputation, and resulted in a demonstrably negative outcome for the boy concerned, who was likely to have done at least moderately well under a comprehensive system.

There is ample evidence that those attending grammar schools very rarely do any better than their peers of similar ability at comprehensives, and some students at grammar schools do worse, because the high-pressure, competitive environment can be stressful and damaging. This was certainly my own experience – while I was strong in some subjects, I was somewhat poorer in others, and had little to no support, being made to feel like I didn’t deserve the “privilege” of attending the school. Many of my peers were in a similar position, and this has left a number of former pupils with serious self-esteem issues. I also feel I lost out by only mixing with a very small subsection of society, i.e. well-off middle-class boys. The whole institution was profoundly elitist in the way it functioned, with well-to-do parents gaming the system to obtain a high-quality education on the cheap, while those who did not pass an arbitrary examination taken at one point in time were condemned to poorer facilities, poorer teaching and lower expectations.

The school can brag as much as it likes about its excellent results and facilities, but these are a self-fulfilling prophecy, because so many people are excluded. The absence of the best academic performers deprives those at secondary moderns from inspirational company, and the best teachers will aspire to working at grammar schools, so all the best resources gravitate away from those who need them the most. Wealthy parents give generous gifts to grammar schools, while secondary moderns cannot benefit from this income stream, condemning them to poorer facilities, and reinforcing their “second best” status as schools no-one would choose for their children.

I therefore consider it immoral to spend taxpayers’ money on expanding a system that exists for the benefit of such a small number of pupils, and steals from those who might be able to benefit from better resources and teaching. If you were offering your facilities to all, I might be willing to support expansion, but it’s abundantly clear that you do not intend to do so. The whole point of the school when it was founded was to offer a good education to able boys from families who could not afford school fees, but it’s blatantly obvious that almost all the pupils who have passed through the school for many years are well-off. If parents want an elitist, exclusive education for their children, the taxpayer absolutely should not be expected to fund it.

My own experience at the school, which at the time was a brutal and hellish hotbed of competitive toxic masculinity, was so negative that I left the area when I had children of my own – I did not want to send them to the school. They have all attended a comprehensive school which has offered a wider range of subjects, differing levels of tuition for those of different abilities, and a far more supportive and encouraging environment in which to learn. They have mixed with peers from a much more diverse range of backgrounds. All three of my children are very different, and all have achieved good things at the school. The school regularly sends pupils to Oxbridge, but offers a great deal to all who pass through the gates, making it truly a focus of the community. Tiffin, by its very nature, will never be these things – it’s an alienating, excluding and snobbish institution which has no right to exist at taxpayers’ expense in today’s society. It does a great deal of damage to social mobility and community cohesion.

I am happy to discuss these matters further, should you so wish. I sincerely hope that one day comprehensive education will come to Kingston – far too many people have been let down and damaged by the continuation of selection.

I know it will fall on deaf ears, but I believe selective education funded by the state is profoundly wrong, grossly unfair and ultimately fails to meet its stated aims. If you’re concerned about fairness and genuine opportunity for all, I’d strongly urge you to oppose grammar school expansion, and campaign for good comprehensives for all. Do you really want your money continuing to preserve the privileges of the affluent? I know I certainly don’t.

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