Ending rejection: news from Labour Party Conference

Spoke last night at full and very lively fringe meeting at Labour Party conference on the importance of ending selection or, as we in Comprehensive Future call it, rejection at 11 plus.The other speakers were Vanessa Everett, the head of both a comprehensive school and a small secondary modern in Kent, and Aaron Porter, Vice President of the NUS. Everett’s speech was powerful testimony to the damage that the eleven plus can do to children; she told many disturbing stories of young children weeping, waking in the night, withdrawing and even turning to alcohol as the immediate result of failure or fear of failure of this test but also of the longer term impact of demoralisation and low self esteem. Siblings are often set against siblings with one passing and the other failing.

It made me realise once again how lucky I and my three brothers were to be sent to the same local school, a short walk from our home. Not only did it mean that we knew each other’s friends and teachers, people we talk about to this day, but we were not divided at a young age, according to our assumed interests, intelligence or capabilities. It was only later in our school career that we began to make different choices and go our separate ways. But I am convinced that sharing a common schooling to the age of 18 was a very important part of our experience as a family, a solid building block in our lives.

One member of the audience found the discussion ‘too emotive’; another young woman defended her grammar school education in a poor area. But generally the meeting was united in powerful feelings of revulsion at the continuation of the eleven plus in fifteen local education authorities, that is twenty percent of the country. That 164 grammar schools should remain after twelve years of a Labour government notionally committed to ending selection is very disappointing.

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