Bashing Grammar Schools

Two Dancers

The Guardian view on educational priorities: arts not grammars.

“The UK government’s education policies are damaging and benefiting the few. It’s time for a rethink.”

The Guardian is arguing for money to be spent on including art and music in the state school syllabus and, it appears, scrapping grammar schools.

If state schools manage to provide a good education in “English literature, English language, maths, two or three sciences, history or geography, and a foreign language” then they will have accomplished the vast majority of what is necessary.  What an enormous achievement.

English literature and history are viewed by most as “arts” subjects – music and visual arts are additional “arts” subjects, not THE arts.

And two or three science subjects is impressive indeed on the assumption these three subjects include physics, chemistry and biology. And maths: many physicists would argue, and correctly in my view, as Galileo Galilei did that “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe”.

Manchester Grammar School
Manchester Grammar School, the largest and most famous of the direct grant grammar schools

The sad fact about the State System is that many pupils appear to resist any sort of education and so thank heavens for the few grammar schools where at least those who want to learn can.

Money is always tight, and it is not going to get any freer. We should be thankful we live in a “civilised” country where education in the core subjects necessary for survival is freely available. We cannot keep regretting that things are not better.  Things could always be better, but the likelihood is that we already have more than could reasonably be expected.

What we should do is to try to capitalise better on what IS available rather than complaining about what is NOT.  If a child gains proficiency in “”English literature, English language, maths, two or three sciences, history or geography, and a foreign language” he is a lucky child indeed. He is equipped with everything he needs to pursue a successful and fulfilling career in modern society.

I agree that civilisation is incomplete without music and visual art.  But first try and improve “education about education”.  Reduce truancy and violence in schools, increase pastoral care and careers advice. Try to convince the child that he will do better in life if he eschews cocky and surly scepticism and takes with open arms the gift offered to him or her.  And try to convince the parents of the same things. To encourage the child to do his homework, to broaden his education with reading and study at home and outside the classroom, to appreciate the chance he has been given by living in modern Britain rather than the Amazonian rain forest.

And try to encourage him to stay at school beyond GCSEs even if university is beyond his grasp.  Such advice, encouragement and pastoral care may make that child’s life a better one.  I hope so.

Two Dancers
By Barry Goyette from San Luis Obispo, USA – CC BY 2.0,

3 Comments

  1. I like that you have included an image of physical activity. Both of my parents used to be school teachers for the city where I grew up (while we lived in a U.S. suburb and I didn’t go to the city schools). They were very happy as teachers for a long time. I heard a lot about a number of changes. One type of change was when the city schools stopped offering visual arts and music and theatre and gym, which all had previously been considered important parts of the system; along with these changes came a shortened time for lunch and elimination of any recess (time to run or climb or relax and talk in the schoolyard) — maybe not all of these at exactly the same time, but close enough. Some children could get theatre or music if they went, rather, to a magnet school specializing in performing arts. Anyway, the worst thing about the whole matter was that the children never got a break in the day. It is my understand that some nations have shorter days at school, but the days were seven to eight hours long.

    1. Balance is so vital in life. A fact I discovered rather late! But our children will determine whether the world will improve or worsen. Education is perhaps the most important factor determining our future and I totally agree that it must be broad, diversified and thoughtful. Too often in England it is a pressured affair. Particularly in our vastly expensive private schools there is an unhealthy obsession with exam performance at the cost of happiness and balance. This needs to change! We need to learn that cooperation and human decency are far more important than competition and material success.

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