Some people may claim I took part in a form of child abuse yesterday morning. I invigilated at an 11+ exam. Ironic, as I generally oppose selective education despite working at a grammar school.
It is not quite as simple as that however. I think that education should be tailored to the individual pupil. Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) should be educated in environments that are targeted to these needs. I am a firm believer that disruptive pupils would benefit from special schools staffed by teachers who are experts in dealing with behavioural problems, where they cannot disrupt the majority of students who are not disruptive. Similarly, in my opinion students with above average intelligence should go to schools staffed by teachers who are experts in dealing with academically gifted children where they will benefit from the competition with other similar students.
My problem is that 11 is not a good age to do this. Children develop at different rates and the 11+ is prejudiced against late developers. Not to mention pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds. At 11, we just end up with an educational apartheid where intelligent middle-class students end up in well-staffed, well-funded grammar schools and those who aren't as intelligent or come from the wrong background have to hope they can get into a decent less discerning school. It may not be the case any more that failure to get into grammar school means you are destined for a life of low-paid manual labour, but the reality is that you are a lot more likely to get into a top university if you go to a grammar school. Indeed, most of the relatively low proportion of students who get into Oxbridge from state school actually come from grammar schools, where they are used to coaching pupils in the Oxbridge admissions process (which is different from that of other universities). It is possible for those who failed to get into a grammar school at eleven to get a place at the sixth form later on but most students do not even consider this option and in any case the places are few.
My solution? Adopt the American model of elementary school, middle school and high school. Selection at 14 is a lot more sensible than selection at 11. By that stage it is pretty obvious whether a student is academically oriented or more suited to vocational qualifications. In practice, even under the comprehensive system, streaming is rife after 14 as teachers decide whether the student in a certain class should sit the higher or middle tier examination papers, determining the maximum grade a student can get at GCSE. The Government plan for diplomas could even fit quite well into this situation, although it is really designed for a comprehensive school model.
We are not there yet however. Yesterday I saw a room full of young students who had the hopes and dreams of their parents on their shoulders. And the background of the parents would be a major factor in whether those hopes and dreams came through.
Why not let those eleven-year olds keep their innocence for a few more years? They are too young to be victims of a socially divided national joke of a discredited education system.