Grammar Schools: Croydon can learn from Sutton’s example

By - Wednesday 30th October, 2013

New contributor Benjamin Flook suggests that a re-introduction of grammar schools would provide greater educational equality

Should we return to 11+ exams for all? Photo by Rhisiart Hincks. Image used under Creative Commons License

Similar to the other London boroughs, Croydon has a shortage of available school places for the rapidly increasing demand. In the last two years alone, demand for reception places has increased by a considerable 25% due to London’s exponentially growing population. While the immediate problem may be primary schools, these children will soon feed into the borough’s secondary schools. There needs to be, therefore, a solution to this educational problem.

While the Conservative-run council has admirably invested record amounts in Croydon’s schools, including opening a primary academy school in South Norwood by Harris Federation and a secondary academy in South Norwood by Oasis Community Learning, there is still a gap in Croydon’s education system: a grammar school. Sadly, Croydon converted their grammar schools into comprehensive schools as a consequence of the policies of the Labour government of the 1960s. Ironically, this move was criticised by a later Labour education minister Lord Adonis, who said the removal of grammar schools was ‘carried out in the name of equality… but [it] served to reinforce class divisions.’

Sutton, however, resisted the governmental pressure and today boasts three top performing grammar schools: Wallington High School for Girls, Nonsuch, and Wilson’s, the last of which relocated to Sutton from Camberwell in 1975. These schools contain a considerable number of pupils from Croydon, meaning the borough is losing some of its most academically able students.

Wilson’s School has offered me an amazing education which, crucially, is offered by the state

However, most importantly, grammar schools provide working class children, whose parents perhaps cannot afford to send their children to independent schools, with the access to a first class education. Personally, I am an example of this. Despite having parents with a relatively modest income, through meritocracy, Wilson’s School has offered me an amazing education which, crucially, is offered by the state. Consequently, Wilson’s has offered me the prospect of a better future.

The opponents of grammar schools argue that those who do not pass are simply consigned to educational oblivion. But, quite simply, this is not the case. While grammar schools provide working class children with a first class education, those individuals who do not pass are not victims of the system. Instead, Croydon Council is an extremely conscientious body determined to improve all of the schools in the borough. As testament to this, the number of pupils achieving five GCSEs from A* to C has increased from under half the borough’s pupils to over 90%.

I therefore propose re-instituting a grammar school in Croydon, providing the borough’s working class children a chance of a first class education whilst simultaneously helping to reduce the burden on the borough’s shortage of school place.

Ben Flook

Ben Flook

Benjamin is a seventeen year old student at Wilson's School. He has lived in the London Borough of Croydon for the entirety of his life. In particular, Benjamin has an interest in cricket and politics. He is a member and an activist of the Croydon Conservative Federation and aspires to become a Conservative Party politician. Benjamin is a Conservative Party Candidate for the May 2014 Croydon Council elections.

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  • Anne Giles

    What a wonderful idea. I was teaching a Peruvian student from Wilson’s – James – who has just done his Spanish GCSE.

  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    How do we remove the influence of class and background and give all children the opportunity to fulfil their potential by the provision of a first class education?

    The absurdity is revealed in the first few words – you never can. So much of educational outcome has been determined by the time a four year old arrives in Reception. But the schooling we provide still reveals a great deal about the kind of society we want to build.

    The benefits of grammar schools to those kids from poorer backgrounds who were able to jump the hurdle of the 11+ can’t be argued with – but what of those who failed to clear it, or never had a chance? What of the later-academically-maturing? Most importantly, if we brought back grammar schools to Croydon, whose sons and daughters would end up there?

    Those David Cameron described as ‘the sharp-elbowed middle classes’ always get their kids into the chosen school: they pay to have them coached for the exam, they move house, they make sure to meet whatever criteria the school requires. But it’s never about equal competition, and the winners are by no means the most able. The re-introduction of grammar schools would only mean more of the social injustice we already experience.

    I have some suggestions about how we might really, genuinely address class segregation within our education system. Depending how the debate on here goes I might be back.

  • Becca

    Great post, Ben, I completely agree! It’s a constantly mentioned irony that many of those politicians who got rid of Grammar Schools were themselves products of them, and subsequent generations have suffered thanks to it. I went to a Grammar School in Kent, and currently live in Sutton – I hope their Grammar schools will be around long enough for me to send my kids too.

  • James

    great article, fantastic points made by a very promising and upcoming future politician.

  • Stephen Mann

    One thing I would say is why criticise the Labour Government whilst praising the Council in Sutton for resisiting? Surely, the Conservative Council in Croydon were toothless if they let the Grammar’s go?

    I personally believe there should be something similar to grammar’s with focus more on academic side with something else more on the vocational/tech side with the option for pupils to be able to move freely between if there is expertise developing in the other sphere.

    My experience of Grammar’s being an ex-Wally is that a lot of ex-private school kids go there pushing down what working class kids there are, and working class intake is very minimal anyway. Particularly in 6th forms.

    As you mention in your article coming from Croydon and going to school in Sutton you draw on one of the dangers of Grammars as seen in Sutton. I remember probably half my classmates coming from outside of Sutton in turn providing fewer opportunities for local kids.

    • Tom Black

      A good point, Stephen. Criticising the actions of any party so long ago is relatively meaningless when trying to argue why someone should support your party in the modern day. Attacking Labour on grammar schools now is like blaming Ed Miliband for the way Harold Wilson handled The Troubles, or David Cameron for Margaret Thatcher’s opposition to sanctions against Apartheid. Perhaps Nick Clegg will soon be asked to answer for the Asquith government’s foolish decision to take us to war in 1914.

      Our education debate should be shaped by lessons from the past – but if political points are to be scored, they should be scored against the record of recent governments or the policies of current manifestos – not the actions of a government which was made up of men and women who, if still alive, have long been drawing their pensions.

  • David

    This is a fantastic article, which encapsulates the major
    problem of our education system not only in Croydon, but also nationally.
    Grammar Schools are fantastic institutions as you rightly state, providing access for
    state school children to high quality education. Importantly, they promote
    meritocracy – not the ‘something for nothing culture’ endorsed by Socialism. The hypocrisy of Labour and other left wing politicians who denounce selective education yet send their own children to these institutions – it seems Socialism is ok for everyone else but themselves! Harriet Harman is a classic example of this. Great article Benjamin, I shall watch out for your name in a few years – hopefully at the Dispatch Box in the Commons!

  • nmakwana

    Good article and worthwhile point. It does seem that Croydon has a lot to learn from Sutton in this regard, given that Sutton has so many high-quality grammar schools; Wallington Boys, Sutton Grammar being the other ones.

    It is wrong to say that Grammar schools are full of ‘ex-public-school boys’. My experience at Wilsons was a very mixed intake from a variety of backgrounds and family circumstances. Further, many Grammar schools afford the opportunity for intake at 16 for A/AS levels, a second chance in effect for those that may not have got in first time around.

  • Charlotte Davies

    All Sutton schools Headteachers work together to share ideas and have done for decades – it is not a fragmented system, as in Croydon. Sutton has in many ways cash starved the grammar schools in order to help sort out the problems related to the other schools. They are a very small and stable Borough – many of the grammar schools have intakes which are about 50% Croydon students (especially those on the borders: Wilsons; Wallington boys; and Wallington Girls).
    In Sutton it is not just the secondary schools that have benefited from long-term stability, the average primary school pupils also goes on to secondary school with higher achievement levels.
    Croydon has a different socio-economic mix and more poverty, which is if anything getting worse. Sutton has got some pockets of severe deprivation, but they have tried to address issues with better designed estates e.g the Roundshaw Estate and community empowerment.
    To change Croydon’s educational outcomes you also have to address a wide range of other social issues.