Mike has have been in education all of his life, in teaching and pastorally. Since retirement he has been a governor at the local comprehensive, a coach and a supply teacher. He argues here that the successes of Secondary Moderns shouldn’t be overlooked.
Poor old John Prescott, who
didn’t get his bicycle when he failed to get into the grammar school.
So at the tender age of 11, he was already a “failure”. (Judging
by the state of the railways, maybe they were right.)
Today many Conservatives want
to bring back the grammar school system and David Cameron doesn’t.
There aren’t that many votes from the mothers and fathers of “failures”.
Is “failure” the right
way to look at it? For children of pushy parents, yes, it is. But there
is another side to it. It takes a lot of self discipline to go to University
and succeed. You have to forego partying and social life. You have to
do a lot of work to get all those A levels. You have to live in great
poverty at school and then go heavily into debt. You have to postpone
your child bearing activities until, alas, often it is too late.
Many, many people neither want
nor need to make that sacrifice. They would much rather stay at home,
raise a family, live modestly and run the local community.
Let me declare an interest.
My late father in law started off his own Secondary Modern school at
Methwold, in rural Norfolk. It had a piggery and a grape vine. The girls
did domestic science and the boys did woodwork. During the holidays,
he took over the woodwork shop and built his own sea going boat. The
Christmas turkey was cooked in the domestic science lab oven. He taught
In those days, people were
not afraid to get their hands dirty.
Until the very end of his life
he received a card from his first head girl. All round Methwold, he
was greeted with respect and gratitude by ex pupils.
Today the school is, of course,
Comprehensive. The piggery is gone.
Until this week, I was coaching
a lad from London. For a number of reasons, which the Social Worker
elaborated on with some gusto, he had been transferred into Lincolnshire
and sent to the local Secondary Modern – now, of course called a “Comprehensive”.
Lincolnshire still has the 11+.
Their GCSE results are, of
course, much better than the nearest Cambridgeshire Comprehensive, which
is already in special measures and about to undergo Fresh Start in September.
The examination results stand up pretty well compared to the local Norfolk
The school is much smaller
and serves just one country town. Because of its human size, the
Deputy Head can stand outside the school at the beginning and end of
the day greeting the pupils by name and trying to look stern. Inside,
parents queue at Reception where they chat with the receptionist. Teachers
control the corridors, calling children by their names. At break, there
is a lot of happy noise, but there isn’t any fighting and precious
little swearing. There isn’t violent, angry, desperate football either.
In the corridor, a boy dropped
some litter and, to my surprise, a girl told him to pick it up. He did.
A pupil stood in my way and then said “Sorry”. In the Fifth Form
Study Area you could talk to the youngsters and receive a polite reply.
The teacher in charge not only knew them by name, but also helped them
with their revision. The ones I spoke to were pleased to tell you their
future plans: the army, Spalding Grammar School, a College, law school.
Their eyes showed that they knew what they were doing.
Casualties were dealt with
quietly and efficiently by people who knew the person and their family.
Teachers smiled and said "Hello"
to me, a stranger.
Even better, I was constantly
plied with hot drinks by the fifth formers who were invariably polite
and who didn’t mind getting their hands dirty by moving furniture,
washing up, fetching things or welcoming a party of Hungarians (The
boy in charge minded very much when the Hungarian lady teacher gave
him a huge hug).
People came in from outside
and were welcomed and encouraged to help educate the children. There
was always something exciting going on.
So, there it is. A Secondary
Modern still looking after local children, giving them a real future
– they are nice, polite and very employable young people – during
Yes, they did have a smoke
on the way home. There was a boy shouting rude words the first time
I went there. A girl was in floods of tears because she was being bullied
on the bus. It’s a school! These were normal children.
To call them “failures”
is as ridiculous as saying that they were not receiving a really effective
education. I really do wish people would
mention the success of Secondary Moderns when they talk about Grammar