LETTER: Constant rise in achievement

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In his recent letter on grammar schools Nigel Friswell says ‘I think they were wonderful’.

Maybe they were, in their time, but we should not try to put the clock back.

Seventy years ago and earlier the grammar schools were doing a useful job in offering a secondary education to a few children from families who could not afford private schools.

This opportunity was extended after the 1944 Education Act but the bulk of young people still left school at 15 with no qualifications.

The rough and ready process of a single examination on one day in the life of an 11 year old was hardly a scientific method of selection.

Some children were wrongly placed – no consideration being given to late developers or the wide range of talents, and there were some in grammar schools who might have scraped through the 11-plus but were not really cut out to take advantage of the academic education offered.

Post-war parents were more ambitious for their children and so grew the movement for comprehensive schools which after a shaky start has now matured into a resounding success.

In Horsham this is only too obvious. We now have three excellent 11-16 schools and a first rate Sixth Form College all highly rated nationally.

Just look at the County Times – week after week we read of academic success together with artistic, sporting, business and other enterprising activities in all our four schools – and this remark could also be extended to our near neighbour the Weald School in Billingshurst.

These schools do a cracking job and there are no children from however deprived a background who could not succeed if they have a mind to do so.

What evidence is there for ‘dumbing down’? On the contrary, the very high percentage of children achieving academic success shows there is a constant rise in expectation, achievement and opportunity.

The days of grammar schools caused much heartbreak in families and neighbourhoods, fostered snobbery and exclusivism, put heavy responsibilities on primary school teachers by pressure from ambitious parents, and gave the 75 per cent who did not make it to a grammar school at age 11 an early sense of being a failure. Do we want that for our children?

It is no time to look back. We should look forward, cut out the criticism and support the children and teachers in the schools we now have.

The government would do well to stop tinkering with this and that – free schools, grammars and so on – and use their scarce resources to back the present schools rather than cutting down on funding.

Can’t they see that what we have is a fair and sound system which should be continually improved and encouraged.

Susan Overton

School Hill, Warnham

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