More Grammar Schools? Sixth Form Debating Society
Today saw Bournemouth School host the latest fiery debate against Bournemouth School For Girls. This week’s motion was, “this house would extend the provision of grammar schools”, as proposed by George Wright and Ian Westhead. Their opponents from the girls’ school were Jodie Pinnock and Caitlin Ridgway.
George opened the debate with his usual dynamism, going so far as to remove his jacket to allow more purposeful flailing. The backbone of his argument was the belief in benefitting as many people as possible by providing everyone with the “unrivalled opportunity” to enhance their chances of success. Through a guided tour of the Soviet Era Eastern Bloc, students were shown the value of choice in education. Staying true to his early claim that he would “get on point in a minute”, George drew attention to the better GCSE results and higher pay for teachers as evidence of the successes of the grammar system. To finish, George presented grammar schools as a means to empower the working class and reengage social mobility nationwide.
Next came Jodie Pinnock opening for the opposition. Jodie discussed the issues of the 11 plus test stating that one “cannot dictate intelligence at the age of 11”. She highlighted the stresses put on entrants by their parents and teachers as well as the problems for those who cannot afford private tuition. Jodie was keen to stress that verbal and non-verbal reasoning is not covered in most primary schools meaning many intelligent students may not be sufficiently prepared for the exam. Having previously attended Glenmore, Jodie asserted that comprehensive schools are more than good enough as evidenced by the improving national results despite the lack of new grammar schools.
Ian Westhead was enthusiastic to engage in some rebuttals claiming that the problems of the 11 plus could be solved within primary education. His main message was that “we should not be ashamed of nurturing academic ability”. Ian presented the extended provision of the grammar system as a way out of the current “unsure phase” by granting “opportunity for all”. In order to overcome the taboo, Ian provided a definition of “academically elitist” as a form of meritocracy. He presented the divisive nature of grammar schools as a result of their geographical concentration in well-off areas. Contrary to the opposition, Ian affirmed that comprehensive schools do not achieve the same driven learning environments seen in grammar schools. To conclude, he compared grammar schools to specialised sports, drama and music schools.
Caitlin opened her speech with some statistics: 6.5% of 10-11 year olds attend independent schools yet 13% of those in grammar schools come from independent schools, to highlight the economic disparity in providing grammar education. By means of yet more facts and figures, Caitlin asserted that grammar schools are a distraction from the major issues in the education sector such as teacher dissatisfaction and a supposed national fall in A*-C grades at GCSE. Caitlin also suggested that grammar schools harm local comprehensive schools by taking the best teachers, creating more disparity. Caitlin referenced her own experience of preparing for the 11 plus exam in year 5 as testimony to its barbarity and futility saying that really it constitutes a “test on memory, not aptitude for learning”. Finally, Caitlin assumed a global outlook within which the UK’s education system ranks 20th – behind countries such as Finland who don’t employ any sort of tiered system.
Next the debate was opened to the floor for questions and challenges. As ever, Mr Bonds took the opportunity to make a heartfelt plea for “less partisan voting”.
Victoria Hillson challenged the opposition’s view of the 11 plus exam as she felt it helped prepare students for later exams.
Valentino Duval questioned inconsistencies in the opposition’s view of national GCSE grades. Jodie reaffirmed that they are going up.
Tom Nicholls attacked the proposition via a discussion of the “centralisation of teaching resources”. After a brief period of utter miscomprehension and an explanation from Tom, George asserted that the problems suggested could be solved by training teachers better to meet the specific demands of students.
Sam Jolly cited measures taken by the Conservative government to help students in receipt of free school meals as proof that they acknowledge the advantage the grammar system grants the upper classes.
Jodie’s closing speech reinforced earlier comments and spoke of the difficulties faced by tutored students who then fall behind within grammar schools.
George’s closing speech drew a clear and supposedly necessary line between grammar schools and both segregated America and the Jewish ghettos of Nazi occupied Warsaw. He stated that the lack of grammar schools is the root of the elitism and that the “one size fits all” policy of comprehensives is less effective in allowing students to pursue their dreams.
Overall, the motion won by 120 votes to 20.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly recorded Caitlin Ridgway’s name as Caitlin Woodrow. Sorry.