Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.
The motto on the school crest says ‘Qui patitur vincit’. Who endures wins.
That motto that has stuck with me throughout my life thus far and one I repeat when giving talks to schools and youth clubs in the hope of inspiring today’s youth to achieve their dreams.
My time at the Latymer School, a selective secondary in my childhood neighbourhood of Edmonton, North London, was busy, happy and helped me on the way to where I am now.
Winning a place at the Latymer was a great opportunity and I made the most of it. I remember my mother and father’s pride on my first day there.
He was a bus driver and a first generation immigrant. Seeing me in that uniform was an early confirmation of what he had always told me – that with hard work and self-belief there was nothing I could not achieve.
One of my abiding memories was my first Founder’s Day, when the programme included a list of all the previous year’s sixth-formers listing the universities that each had gone onto. The message was clear. In seven years’ time, expect your name and your university to be listed.
From day one the expectation was there. I studied French, and a year later Russian and Latin – which helped me to decode the motto. All of us took our English O-level a year early and some of us also took maths a year early. We were all expected to aim for nine or ten O levels.
The uniform was strictly enforced. To me that instilled discipline and some of the demands of the future workplace. It also meant the poorer youngsters dressed just like the better-off and there was no place for divisive luxury labels or designer logos.
I am pleased to say the school thrives today. While entrance exams have since been introduced, in place of primary-school recommendation, the method of selection helpfully includes a modest bias to help candidates from difficult backgrounds.
I am even more pleased to hear news of potential funding for more selective schools in Philip Hammond’s first Budget.
What is important now is that we come up with a 21st Century version of selectivism. One which delivers the best of the old grammar school ethos with a modern approach to flexibility and fairness.
Our priority has to be social mobility. It has always been a worry to me that the old 11-plus was a once and final cut-off – giving children at quite a young age just one shot at the golden ticket and no second chance.
I would prefer at least three chances for people to move to a grammar school: At 11-plus, then a further exam in Year 9 (aged 13) which would allow them to take their GCSEs at grammar school if the promise was there.
Finally, the GCSEs themselves should give them the chance to move to a grammar school for A-levels. The old direct-grant schools used to work this way, until Labour abolished them despite them working well.
I believe this was the kind of structure Theresa May had in mind when she announced ending the ban on the creation of new grammar schools.
We also need to stress that schools outside the selective network must also be tasked with delivering excellence. It can no longer be “the grammar school”and “the rest”.
Perhaps the most powerful riposte possible to those who argue that we are trying to turn back the clock, came from Justine Greening when she said, “There will be no return to the simplistic, binary choice of the past, where schools separate children into winners and losers, successes or failures. This government wants to focus on the future.”
I welcome the Prime Minister’s suggestion that the new grammar schools must set up feeder schools and locate them in difficult areas. They must also do the utmost to share facilities and expertise to avoid all suspicion of elitism or separatism.
Sports grounds, activities events, even staff – all must be shared. Then when there is movement by pupils they will already know the set-up and some of the staff.
Finally, we must not get hung up on names. It does not matter a jot whether we call them grammar schools, advanced schools, academies or whatever. What matters is not a monolithic education system, but a system that works across the board – and allows youngsters to achieve their full potential whatever their background.
To me that sounds like a winning formula that will endure.