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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