Thursday, 15 October 2015

Sevenoaks Grammar School Annex - the courage to do the right thing

The entire country celebrated with pride when Team GB were in third place on the 2012 London Olympic Games' leader board, with 29 Gold, 17 Silver and 19 Bronze medals. It was the strongest haul of medals for Great Britain in 50+ years, including the 1980 and 1984 Games, which were boycotted by the USA and USSR respectively. 

Everyone connected with sport, including our athletes, coaches, professional bodies, commentators and officials agreed that identifying potential elite performers and providing them with the investment, training and support they needed to excel in their field was key to their success. I doubt any of our sporting stars would have achieved greatness had their potential not been recognised and nurtured

And that is why I support selection. 

If we are happy to identify and develop the cream of our athletes then celebrate their success, then surely we should be equally supportive of our elite students, and give them the support they need to excel academically?

The mistake we have made as a country is to focus on equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity, then use that false premise to dumb down expectations and accept mediocrity. 

For the record I attended a comprehensive school, but fortunately one which had been a top performing Grammar School a few years earlier and still maintained an ethos of excellence, under a gowned Headmaster who spoke Latin and put the fear of God into most of pupils. 

Did attending a comprehensive effect my education? Actually, yes it did. Having the ever present 'naughty boys' at the back of each class, who saw learning as a chore not an opportunity, not only ruined lessons but absorbed too much teacher time. But worse was the physical and emotional bullying which made journeys to and from school each day so fearful and which ruined my middle years. It was only later that I found the majority of my school friends faced the same. I have no doubt that if "the lads at the back" had a stronger teacher who could engage with them at a different level and the "geeks at the front" had been allowed peace and opportunity to study at our natural level, both groups would have benefited.    

So that is why I am celebrating the decision by the Secretary of State to allow the opening of a Grammar School annex in Sevenoaks. It is not the reversal of government policy many of us would like, but it's certainly a step in the right direction and it sets a precedent that others might follow. Congratulations to all the parents who have campaigned so hard for this and credit where it is due to Kent County Council for having the political courage to do the right thing in the face of quite strong opposition.  

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