Grammar schools, sexual discrimination and 11+ were damaging social engineering – why bring them back?

I rarely write about education issues, but the current governments passion for selection and labelling 11 year olds as better or lacking infuriates me.

I was one of the last trenche of 11+ kids and my girls grammar switched to comp in my 2nd year. By the time I hit the 6th form, sociology was brought on as an A level option and I studied it. I did O’level in lower 6th form and A level in upper. And one thing that has stayed in my mind from studying sociology was learning, when I was 17 myself, that the 11+ exam used to have a different pass level for boys and girls, because far more girls would have passed and gone to grammar than boys. So they not only allowed an equal number of boys to pass, they allowed MORE to pass by lowering their pass grade. It made me angry then and still does now. I just checked online and found CH Thompson mentions it on their blog too:

Discrimination – there is evidence of discrimination against girls in education simply because of their gender. For example, when the 11-plus exam was introduced in the 1940s, the pass mark was set lower for boys than for girls to make certain there roughly equal numbers of boys and girl sin grammar schools. In other words girls were artificially ‘failed’ so boys could ‘succeed’.

Do we really want this to happen again? I understand that girls get much better grades in A levels these days, and more women than men are gaining university places. That might have occurred for girls during my generation, had they not been kept down at the age of 11. Might brining back the 11+ be an opportunity for further discrimination?

The success of female applicants mirrors the trend in GCSE and A-level results, with girls outperforming boys across the grade scale. In 2013, girls received A* or A grades at GCSE in 25% of papers taken, compared with nearly 18% of boys’ papers. Guardian

My closest school friend joined the 6th form because her secondary school didn’t go up to A level – so her education was disrupted by the 11+ twice – once being rejected for grammar, working hard, then needing to argue her case for grammar A levels. She’s now an experienced lecturer in a university, despite her 11+ failure. 

With SATS being a goal rather than all-round education; creativity more or less rejected by the curriculum and a total ignorance of the fact that a childs intellectual growth occurs mostly before the age of 5, we have become a country that only encourages rote learning and rejects creative thinking, learning through play and gender equality.

When I hear that kids are being taught to be entrepreneurs at primary school, my toes curl. When I hear teachers describe going to school as a child’s ‘job’ I flinch. When schools refuse to teach young people that prefer not to wear a strictly defined unform, they are denying creative expression, as well as forcing those whose parents who can’t afford the expensive uniforms to struggle even more.

Why can’t we ‘support’ young people to learn in a positive way, rather than set up a system that continually judges them? 
I just watched an excellent animation that began this thinking….and am listening to radio 4 and hearing that high achievers will be removed from comprehensives and therefore not provide inspiration to others……..I despair. Is Michael Rosen the only person involved in education that actually seems to have empathy with children? They should make him Minister of Education. He would fix things.

Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

3 thoughts on “Grammar schools, sexual discrimination and 11+ were damaging social engineering – why bring them back?

  1. I absolutely agree …these are frightening times as the clocks go back to a supposedly ‘golden age’ while we hurtle forward to an unknown, with lost of scary things in it, future.


    1. interesting, thanks Liz. Yes, wood carver or even potter might be better..but I love the gardener metaphor. not so keen on the idea of reading about Augie, aged one, being a ‘proven chick magnet’ though!


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