Grammar lessons

Education columnist Susan Elkin considers all the issues when choosing a school

I’ll come clean. I’m a grammar school girl and proud of it. Today only 158 grammar schools remain across the country although Theresa May has indicated – controversially but rightly in my view – that there could soon be more. Meanwhile Kent has 33 selective schools and there are a further six in the Medway Local Education Authority area which lies within the county.

Last month thousands of children took the Kent Test to assess whether or not they have the ability and potential to benefit from a grammar school education. Results will be announced on 13 October.

When I was in what we now call Year 6 every one of us sat the 11 plus examination. Today it’s optional. Many families are perfectly happy with the local alternatives to grammar school so their children are not tested for selective education suitability.

In principle a grammar school education is a fine thing but not all grammar schools are as good as they should be and many non-selective schools are excellent. Moreover, if a child isn’t ready for grammar school at 11, they may be different at 14 or 16 and there’s plenty of flexibility within the system. You do, however, have to make the best possible choice for your child from the options available – now. That means attending every open day/evening this term. Don’t rely on reputation which is always fickle and usually out of date.

If there’s a chance to see the schools in session then grab it. Open days can be strained and contrived. If you’re there when real lessons are happening look for a well-managed working buzz. Too much silence is not necessarily good.

Visit the students’ toilets if you can too. If they’re clean and pleasant it’s a sign that this is a school which takes care of its pupils and respects them. Above all talk to the current students who show you round.

Listen to your child’s opinion. Sometimes they will spot or sense something you’ve missed. Ultimately though remember that they are only 10 or 11, very inexperienced and may be more worried about where friends are going than anything else. It is your responsibility as parent to make this decision on his or her behalf and the wise parent makes that very clear.

Grammar schools are a great idea (excuse my bias) but they are never going to be right for everyone. We should look for and support high quality alternatives (Mrs May and colleagues, please note) and stop this destructive, emotive talk of ‘failure’ and ‘writing them off for life at 11’.