Grammar schools: Even the BBC is waking up to the painful, divisive reality

I suspect I am not the only person who felt beamed into some alien universe watching the first episode of Grammar Schools: Who Will Get In?, BBC2’s mini-series focusing on the transfer to secondary school in the selective borough of Bexley. The Guardian reports.

Are there really parts of diverse, metropolitan London in 2018 in which primary-age children are put through the 11-plus test? Who could not be haunted by the silent tears of Jaenita’s mother, who works at Poundland and has spent hundreds of pounds a month for years on test tuition, only to see her plucky, articulate daughter fear herself “a failure in life”?

Parts two and three of the series will concentrate on the secondary school years, particularly the run-up to GCSEs, with Erith secondary modern struggling with a minority of disruptive students and severe teacher shortages in science, while Townley grammar has the pick of highly qualified staff.

In 2012, I was part of a group that made a complaint to the BBC about its documentary Grammar Schools: A Secret History, a rosily nostalgic view of postwar selection that saluted the grammar schools of old. We didn’t succeed with our complaint but we gave the BBC a run for its taxpayers’ money in terms of the politics of misrepresentation.

So why does this series feel a bit different in tone and content? It’s partly that television has extended its reach in the intervening years, with popular programmes such as Educating Essex and Educating Yorkshire, which have brought so many brilliant heads, teachers and young people into sympathetic view. There’s more than a hint of “Educating Bexley” about the new series. More generally, as a society, we’ve developed a keener understanding of the emotional component of learning – so there’s much less of the stiff BBC upper lip about 11-plus failure and more of a sense of the damaging effect of the test throughout secondary education – and not just on those who have failed.

In taking a broader, and powerfully human, view of the impact of selection, Grammar Schools: Who Will Get In? will surely put a further dent in government plans to expand grammar schools. Only in the final episode – when too much time is given over to the self justifications of Townley’s smooth-talking head – does it feel as if the programme makers lose their nerve. By then, I suspect, it is too late. Most viewers will already have made up their mind about this rotten system.

Read the full article Grammar schools: Even the BBC is waking up to the painful, divisive reality

Did you watch the 1st episode? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or  via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. Anonymous

    I’m finding this series really interesting and it is trying to show both sides of the argument rather than tell us what we should think! A bit of balance is what you ardent against grammar schools people need to ask for. You always think you are so right. Children always are tested and you saw at Erith school how some children that didn’t get enough points (they don’t fail) can still do well and get into University if the school is any good! Why should clever children not be given the opportunity to get an education that suits their needs based on merit rather than money! Just because some children don’t get enough points to get in to grammar school does that mean that everyone has to suffer those disruptive lessons? Did you hear the bit about grammar schools not getting more funding than secondary modern schools? Less teachers and bigger class sizes in grammar schools. I went to a rubbish comprehensive school which worked for no ability groups and so did my son, I wish he had the opportunity to check whether he could have got into a grammar school. Get real, people get over things like this, believe me many thousands have to get over failing GCSEs at rubbish comprehensive schools, now that really is a failure!

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