I have gone to a Grammar School for four years of my life. In my first year there I was a gullible kid who didn't understand most things in life including the education system. Now, after finishing my fourth year there, I understand more things, can see how the education system works and I have realized the truth behind grammars (which is both partly good and bad) so I thought I would share with you the honest truth of what grammar schools are like because I have actually been to one and because Grammar Schools seem to be at the center of many debates such as 'should we bring back more Grammar schools?'.
In order to get into a grammar school you have to pass an 11+ non verbal and verbal test. When I sat these tests I thought they were the most important thing in my life. I thought getting into a grammar was the be all end all, the ultimate achievement. Everyone said grammar was the best school ever. And you can imagine the pressure I felt to get into grammar even though my parents would say rather supportingly 'you can only do your best, it doesn't matter if you don't get in'. Secretly I knew they really wanted me to get in and I knew they would be severely disappointed if I didn't. I was worried I wouldn't get in, especially when I realized I could have potentially missed out on ten marks at the end of the non verbal paper because I was too busy worrying about needing a wee but very luckily I managed to get in to grammar.
It's just as well I got in although at the time, many of my friends didn't get in. It was like Darwin's natural selection before my very eyes. The day we all found out if we had got in or not was actually quite tragic. At school, one girl was on her knees sobbing as if it was the end of the world. Her parents had wanted her to get in more than anything and most of her friends, including her bestest friend had got in. She felt stupid and that she had let everyone down, including herself. I felt sorry for her, having to deal with all that pressure to get in and then not getting in and dealing with all that at such a young age where you shouldn't really be worrying about things like that. She did her best, but was it good enough? No. Natural selection said goodbye to her, crossed her off the list and fed her to the angry crocodiles in the swamp. Natural selection sent her to the public school up the road when all her friends got to go to the grammar school, the amazing, impressive grammar school. That's life. You either rise up or get kicked down. Survival of the fittest at its finest.
That's how harsh it is. I really do think its tough how 11 and 12 year olds have to go through the pressure and the expectations of getting into a grammar school. Some parents make their kids do countless hours of practice for the tests. Should a child really have to do all that work and have all that pressure to get in to a school? And what if they don't get in? What is the child going to feel like then? They will feel ashamed, stupid and like they are not good enough. A child shouldn't have to feel like this. And then the children who do get in suddenly feel this sense of 'I'm better than you'. One friend of mine started going round saying 'I go to a grammar school don't you know!'. Luckily I didn't feel the need to say this, especially when most of my friends didn't get in. What would saying that have made them feel like? Many people thought that getting into grammar meant you were ultra smart but thinking about it, it doesn't even really mean your smart! One of the smartest people I know who always got top grades in every subject didn't get in to grammar. Grammar tests aren't really true representations of smartness or mental ability.
In Year 8 we had a series of exams which many children found competitive and hard especially after the nice, easy work in Year 7 where most of us were top of the class. Suddenly many of us were experiencing thoughts such as 'i'm not good enough' because all of a sudden the competition had risen to dramatically high levels. We compared test scores with our friends and I even found myself getting scores which were at the bottom of the class, especially in Science which I was not very good at (and i'm still not very good at it). Everyone forgot that we were actually in the top percentage of the country and only thought about the classroom we were in rather than the country as a whole. After all, at that age you only really believe what you see. The work was a lot harder than in Year 7 and although I enjoyed the challenges that came with the new work, it was also sometimes a bit too difficult for me and the homework was a bit excessive. However many people found the homework alright if you got it done the night you got it. Thinking back, I actually realize that we had more exams in Year 8 than in Year 9 which was most probably to get us adjusted to our new school and to see what level we were really at.
Here's a key point about Grammar Schools: They are mostly full of middle class white children. And my school backs up this point very nicely indeed. Why are there more middle class children in a Grammar? Perhaps because their parents were the ones who paid for tuition to get into grammar. Poorer families would not necessarily be able to afford the tuition to pass the eleven plus exam. It all makes perfect sense. It could also be because their parents went to grammar schools so are prompted to get into a grammar school themselves. I think there should be a lot more diversity (of classes and race) in grammar schools so the children who go to a grammar get to interact with all corners of society... and so the poorer classes can achieve potential.
Also Grammar Schools primarily focus on the more academic subjects which makes sense really because after all as it is a Grammar school. But this obviously isn't particularly good for the more creative kids who struggle with subjects like Science and Maths. I was one of these kids and although my school really did it's best (but not enough) to help me in Science and Maths I just wasn't up to scratch with the high academic standards. The teachers would take the mick out of creative subjects like Art, Media or Graphics. I remember my Chemistry teacher once said something along the lines of 'I can't quite believe there's a GCSE for painting little pictures' (Art). Another of my teachers said that Media Studies was 'just watching films and a waste of time'. I don't think it's just watching films... We all have our opinions but I don't think it was fair of this rather idiotic teacher to say this to try and influence their students. Although my Grammar School does allow you to take up creative subjects instead of logical ones it is deeply biased and sways heavily to the more logical side with teachers disregarding the subjects that aren't scientific or maths based.
Despite all this, the challenging atmosphere in a Grammar School did certainly make me feel powered up and willing to learn, especially in Year 8 (my enthusiasm for school was a downward slope after Year 8). Most grammar Schools also have pretty decent teachers who can actually teach (however they are all extremely left wing so they are obviously politically influencing their students, bombarding them with left wing views). Grammar Schools are also usually single sexed (which can be good and bad (but mostly bad actually)). And a key positive factor is that Grammar Schools allow students to reach their full potential (if you have potential).
Thanks for reading. Please do comment your thoughts about what I have written.