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Sykes: Politicians Have "No Guts" with Grammar Schools

Oct 31 2007 14:51
Andrew Holland
Imperial's Rector, Sir Richard Sykes, has slammed politicans from across the political spectrum for their opposition to grammar schools.
Sir Richard Sykes is becoming more vocal (a bit like the old days!) in his last year

Sir Richard Sykes has slammed politicians for not having the ?guts? to promote grammar schools. Taken from an interview in the [Financial Times, Sir Richard has said that grammar schools should be reintroduced in order to stop Britain?s education system slipping further behind other industrialised countries, and claims that the closure of grammar schools has halted social mobility within the country.

If we're really serious about competing in the world today, that's exactly what we'd do, but nobody's got the guts to do it.
Sir Richard Sykes on the reintroduction of grammar schools

Speaking on Imperial College?s student make up, he stated that forty years ago 90% of Imperial students came from grammar schools, whereas now only 6.2% of home students do so. Sir Richard believes that the closure of grammar schools has stopped poorer students from coming to the country's top universities. Oxford and Cambridge are struggling to meet their targets for state-school recruitment, claiming that there are simply not enough state school students of suitable quality applying.

Sir Richard, himself a grammar school student, has often been classed as outspoken in the press, but many may find it refreshing for such a senior academic to speak up so strongly in favour of grammar schools. With the current state of the education sector, grammar schools can be seen as way to give bright children who cannot afford extortionate school fees the chances that they deserve. Sykes has continually reiterated his belief that Imperial should select solely on the basis of ability and not how much their parents can afford to pay, even with the large fees charged to overseas students.

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Discussion about “Sykes: Politicians Have "No Guts" with Grammar Schools”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Oct 31 2007 17:03

As one of the 6.2%, and coming from a background where "extortionate school fees" were certainly not an option, I have to say Sykes is completely wrong on this one.

Better streaming / selection at the subject level is probably required, and more money going into state schools is definitely required.

Setting a child's future in stone at age 11 based on a test that doesn't reflect anything other than an ability to take that specific test is emphatically not.

Oct 31 2007 17:39

I hope that one day, everybody will have the same opportunities. Whilst not ideal, giving people new opportunities aged 11 is infinitely times better than people being born into advantageous circumstances.

Oct 31 2007 21:56

Hurrah! Finally Sykes says something I agree with!

It's really important to teach people in groups of ability otherwise lessons will be a balancing act -over the heads of some students and pointless for others... if they even get finished due to the disruption of a small minority...

And yes I am biased

Oct 31 2007 22:00

I also wonder how passing the 11+ would be setting a child's future "in stone".

It gives people the best opportunities to learn who want to without disruption and at their level. they can always leave which the crack-heads do anyway.

I think people from compa and various others can be really naiive on this subject possible because of the embarrassment at perhaps not being able to get into a grammar school themselves! it's less harsh than streaming in comprehensive school where everyone knows what set everyone else is in and there is constantly feelings of competitiveness and feelings of inadequacy.

5. Naive   
Oct 31 2007 22:11

I don't quite understand how being told at 11 (on the basis of one exam) that you're not clever enough to go to school with the smart kids discourages feelings of inadequacy...

Oct 31 2007 22:34

I agree with almost all of Sykes' stands and viewpoints on HE sector. If you have spent a period of your life overseas, and have some American perspectives, you would know that this guy knows what he is talking about.

British schools are suffering from a rampant decline of standards, and that started from the day when O level was abolished in favour of GCSE. Curriculum 2000 and the modular exam is killing the reputation of A-levels in the world (hence the fad about Int'l baccalaureate). By constantly using overseas students as cash-cows, the college is giving way too many easy offers to overseas students which inevitably makes an Imperial offer cheaper than a second-tier American college.

Britain is following a dangerous path of commercialisation of tertiary education, "selling" degrees to foreign students that looks increasingly similar to that path taken by Australia. Would Britain become an educational junkyard as well?

Oct 31 2007 22:40

I'm afraid I've got to agree with Naive and quite strongly disagree with Ms Gibbs. How, precisely, is an 11+ exam "less harsh" than comprehensive streaming? Pupils get one shot at the 11+ exam, and believe me, many parents will do their damnedest to ensure their child passes it. Ergo: many thick kids ending up in your local grammar through sweating and private tutoring, and a lot of more deserving, genuinely talented kids being forced into the local comprehensive instead. The main "embarrassment", I would argue, is felt by those competitive parents who are desperate to get their underachieving sprog into the grammar in the first place.

In contrast, comprehensive streaming sets nothing "in stone." It separates the hard workers from the disruptive pupils, and, most importantly, the streaming of the pupils is frequently reviewed. Someone who begins to shine in a middling set can be moved up to a higher one (or vice versa), as opposed to realising they need to move to a 'better' school. Because - most importantly - not everybody genius is showing their full potential at age 11.

8. Ant   
Oct 31 2007 23:18

Grammar Schools work when working with a suitable Secondary modern. Unfortunately what screws up any chances of any education system working these days is the attitude of parents and league tables that forse towards the 'teach to pass' mentality.

If you condition a child to pass a specific test you are risking wrecking that childs education. I know plenty of people that did not get in to a grammar school, went to a secondary modern and achieved better than the bottom end of the grammar school, because the teaching style and subjects there were better suited to them. Those that were 'trained' to pass the 11+ but actually were not of such the straight academic type then find themselves struggling and would often have been better off at a grammar school.

Comprehensive streaming is an admission that the theory behind the 'one size fits all' comprehensive system doesn't actually work. The advantage that a Grammar/secondary modern system has over a pair of comprehensive schools is that it enables two different approachs to teaching to be adopted amongst groups generally suited to the styles used rather than one teacher having to try and cater for two different groups which increases the chances of boredom and disruption.

I'll admit that its still not ideal for all but my experience is that it is for the majority.

Oct 31 2007 23:24

As a former grammar school member, i can definitely say that NO "thick" kids get into grammars just because their parents giv them tutoring. if theyre not clever, they wont pass, the exam isnt like GCSEs where you learn stuff by rot and pass, it really tests intelligence, particularly in the VR section. So sorry to disappoint you there.

True there is disappointment for the kids who "fail" - but noone need know! My lil sis is an 11+ "failure" and was really upset... for about a week. Only one of her friends knew she even took it.

She's now at a comp being teased for being in the top set in everything (apart frommaths) and feeling really "c**p" at maths because she is in the second set. Apparently it's really demoralising being in the 'thick' sets and peopel in the bottom sets just dont bother.

the fact that the cleverest children are taught in a different building has no effect on the others, im sure comp kids dont give a toss about the grammar school in the next town, and if comps are so great then the "genuinely talented" SPROG will do fine in it anyway, hmmm???

And one last thing, parents just want the best for their children (apart from the child-beating ones) and whether the kid is top pf the class or middle will want them to have the best shot at education. to suggest that the kids who pass the 11+ are the only ones who have parents who give enough of a toss ("those competitive parents who are desperate to get their underachieving sprog into the grammar") is a bit weak.

Oct 31 2007 23:26

I agree to most of what Sir Richard and Spencer Smith have said. However I don't believe that the College is offering too many offers to overseas students.

I know many overseas students within the College who are very talented and "qualified" to study in any world class universities. I don't believe that overseas students automatically get lower offers. In fact, I often find that overseas students top the class in their departments and they generally perform better than many local students.

It is not a matter of selling a degree. Be realistic about the whole economics of the argument. If it costs more to educate a student than what the government is paying, then someone will have to pay the rest of the bill. That could be the government paying more, philanthropists, alumni, family members or the students themselves. My view may differ from many of the readers, but the underlying point is clear!

In conclusion, if Imperial was as wealthy as some of the top American colleges, I wouldn't doubt that the rector (and that could be any of them) would offer what Princeton offered to the students. One way of keeping the Imperial College degree free for all would be for the government to stop subsidising pointless degrees!

Oct 31 2007 23:31

One last question, to Naive state comp kid:

What is the basis for this argument? (other than bitter speculation?)

"Pupils get one shot at the 11+ exam, and believe me, many parents will do their damnedest to ensure their child passes it. Ergo: many thick kids ending up in your local grammar through sweating and private tutoring, and a lot of more deserving, genuinely talented kids being forced into the local comprehensive instead. The main "embarrassment", I would argue, is felt by those competitive parents who are desperate to get their underachieving sprog into the grammar in the first place."

Oct 31 2007 23:35

Ok, so to start I went to a grammar school.

Yep, the 11+ is mildly ridiculous, and yes many undeserving students end up at grammar schools. I have certainly seen this. And where did they end up? Portsmouth and Bournemouth mainly, if they went into HE at all. Much like the comprehensives, where the vast majority of my friends went, the wheat was somehow separated from the chaff.

However, the thing that separates the comprehensives from the grammars (and I can only speak for about 5 grammars that I intimately know people from) is that they offer a whole lot of support to the more able students, and not at the expense of the less able.

I'm in a PhD at the moment, and some of the people I respect the most intellectually come from comprehensives, but they have really strggled. Yes a few of them have been lauded in the local press, but that was more of a curiosity, they had to fight hard to come out on top.

Perhaps this is an important lesson. However, personally I feel that being in an environment where you're not singled out as some kind of freak statistic for achieving is useful. Are people going to start complaining about most of the top institutions in the world having centres for advanced study?

Nov 01 2007 00:28

The giant gulf in opportunity represented by potentially one mark in a completely irrelevant verbal reasoning test is scandalous, and should not be allowed.

A few people here are citing "undeserving" people getting into grammar schools (which undoubtedly happens a lot - your basic 11-plus test can definitely be taught). They are not the issue.

The genuinely hard-working kids, who at age 11 are basically told they will amount to nothing, because of a test totally irrelevant to almost every subject they will learn at school, are the issue.

These kids are the ones that will benefit the most from being in "an environment where you're not singled out as some kind of freak statistic for achieving" after all. Your average genius type will probably do just as well no matter where they go to school.

Anyone who disagrees with me on this is a truly awful person.

Nov 01 2007 07:32

It has to be said that the cleverest students will end up succeeding no matter where they go. And I was shocked when quite recently I found that only a few of each year group from the local grammar school went to Oxbridge.

I believe that in comprehensives streaming must be used to isolate the disruptive students. It is naive to believe (hope?) that all students want to learn, and if some kids want to behave like that, fine. But hopefully a stage will reach when comprehensives are of the same level as grammar schools (which most of them are tbh) which are the same level as private schools.

Nov 01 2007 09:21

Victoria Gibbs: The basis for that argument is my own experience of the town in which I grew up. I saw some parents try every method they could to force a grammar school place upon a child who really wasn't up to it. Trust me, I saw plenty of thick kids pushed into my local grammar school alongside the clever ones. I'd like to think I'm not overly bitter about this; certainly I think I got a good deal out of my state comp and I've turned out all right, without meaning to sound smug. What I primarily object to is the way the 11+/grammar system forces elitist competition on children at such an early age. Aged 11, most children will not fully understand the system, and to simply be told they aren't good enough will come as a fairly daming indictment.

James Millen: I take your point, particularly about countries have centres for advanced study. However, I think the age of 11 is far too early to be "separating the wheat from the chaff." As I stated earlier, not every genius blossoms at that tender age. The difference between advanced study centres and grammar school selection is that the former will take on mature students who can sign up when they're ready to, yet the latter makes the decision for them.

I think the point I really want to get across is that 11 is too young an age to make a definite separation. Let the children develop properly, stream and re-stream them as necessary but don't segregate them into different institutions so early.

Nov 01 2007 09:47

Passing your 11+ didn't necessarily mean getting into grammar school where I lived. I lived in Nottinghamshire where all the Grammar Schools had been closed and the nearest Grammar was only a few miles away over the border into Lincolcnshire. However they had a quota of children they could take from outside the county and seeing as they had gone over it the year before decided to take no Nottinghamshire Children in my year.

Still I got the grades I needed and ended up at the University I wanted to go after studying at two different State Comprehensives. I don't think Comprehensives did me any harm. I do think they gave me the chance to p*** around doing loads of extra-curricular activities and I wouldn't give up music lessons, orchestra, choir, Guides etc etc for a chance to work harder and achieve the same results at a Grammar School.

Nov 01 2007 11:02

I think that putting people into sets whether at grammer school or any other school is the way to go. It means that pupils can work with others at their own pace. I put my hands up to having gone to a Scottish Private school (fees were so much lower than in England) where we had exams every year from our first year, were not trained to sit the exams so had to do our best and were put into sets from our first day.

In the first two years we were in classes which were effectively sets 1-3. All in each class were in the same set for everything.

In the 3rd year we were seperated. I was in set 6 of 8 for maths and 6 of 7 for English. Was I demoralised for being in a "thick" set? No! I worked damned hard to get results that were as good as those in the higher sets. It must have worked as I got into IC.

In many ways going to the school I went to was similar to the selection process for Grammer Schools. I had to sit an exam, if I passed I got in if I failed I didn't. Life is like that.

18. Seb   
Nov 01 2007 12:38

I think he is missing the real point.

Grammar schools will only help a minority of state pupils, as they are implicitly "elitest": The top x% go to Grammars, the rest go to secondry moderns/comps.

Therefore, they will not improve social mobility, as we do not have such a narrow accademic elite anymore, ~40-50% now go to higher education, and grammar schools will only help the 10% (say) most gifted.

An argument for Grammar schools then is saying that the top universities need the top x% to be selected at the age of 11 or whenever it is, given an accademic focused education system, and then proceed to university.

That is clearly nonsense: we need *all* children to be prepared with the opportunity to gain access to the top universities.

If one is arguing that what is needed is for a narrow specialist "elite" to be identified (those that can do specialist subjects like medicine, engineering and science), then that is *precisely* what Blair's specialist schools are set up to do. Whether they work or not is something else.

In terms of scoial mobility, social mobility is defined in terms of the probability of a person born into one economic quartile ending up in another one. The reason social mobility is lower is not because grammar schools ended, but because university places expanded.

The expansion of universities from a small accademic elite, which both the small % (wrt to the general population) of talented, privately educated school leavers, and a the samll % of talented grammar school educated school leavers had broadly equal access to, to one where most middle cass jobs require a degree for, but where a huge swathe of middle class kids get into, but poor kids can't get into so easily.

Social mobility has declined not because the best public education isn't keeping up with the best private education, but because the middle tranche of public education isn't keeping pace with the middle trance of private education, and because the bottom economic group generally only has access to the worst public education institutions.

In other words: the expansion of university places has allowed mediocre kids of succesful parents to almost gaurantee they will not move down the economic scale into other quartiles. Hence, a decline in social mobility.

If Grammar schools were still as widespread as they were in the 60's, we would still have had a decline in social mobility: the best private schools and the best grammar schools would still be competing for the likes of Oxbridge, Imperial and other institutions of a similar caliber, thus allowing the possibility to move from any economic quartile to the very top of society, but it would have no affect on the 90% of state educated pupils not at grammar schools.

19. Seb   
Nov 01 2007 12:44

"She's now at a comp being teased for being in the top set in everything (apart frommaths) and feeling really "c**p" at maths because she is in the second set. Apparently it's really demoralising being in the 'thick' sets and peopel in the bottom sets just dont bother."

I went to a Public School, and their entire basis is on streaming to GCSE and setting in A-Levels.

I was in the top set for Physics, bottom set for Maths, and I was also pretty awful at languages. Woe, woe was me, my self esteem never recovered: Because I was so good at the sciences I became the bumptious arrogant a**ehole I am today, rather than going to work in the corner because I couldn't spell.

Screw self esteeme, the critical point is that I wasn't junked at the age of 11 before my talent for hard sciences had an opportunity to display itself, nor was I condemend to a low stream for the sciences because I was c**p at French and English.

David Cammeron has it right: forget Grammar Schools, at best they will only help the top %age that can go to them, go for setting with a small element of streaming.

Nov 01 2007 12:53

so giving high quality education to the clever people in a hardworking environment is worth less than the feelings of disappointment felt by those that do not get in??!!??

I am a "truly awful person"...

21. Seb   
Nov 01 2007 13:38


If that's at me... no, the opposite, and the argument about self esteem is a total sidetrack, as to whether someone feels bad because they get rejected at 11, or because they get setted into different sets in different subjects (which is what you appeared to be saying).

We can't possibly pretend to be able to select the accademic elite at 11, and selecting the elite does not help social mobility anyway, as the important issue is access to the middle class jobs and incomes.

The only reason Grammar Schools fucntioned to increas social mobility was when a University degree was taken by ~10-15% of the overal population.

It sucked for those that did not show they were good enough for one by the age of 11, but this was masked in the figures. Public schools produced a small number of talented kids with a rich background and grammar schools produced a small number of talented kids from middle class and poor backgrounds, and these two very small groups competed for access to the universities, and the rest went to polytechnics, apprenticeships or went straight into professions.

Now access to any profession requires a degree, and most degree places are monopolised by middle classes.

As someone pointed out: where do the over-tutoured hoop jumpting middle class grammar school (and private schools, if the parents have enough spare cash) attendees, as opposed to the genuinely talented, end up? The middle and lower ranking universities. That is the main social mobility problem.

The problem Imperial, Oxbridge et al has is that the state school edcuation system only gives a very small number of state school pubils the pre-requisite teaching for them to be able to succesfully apply. However, fixing that wil not improve social mobility. Nor is it particularly a social good that we can "fix" oxbridge by providing a good opportunity for a verry narrow set to get the pre-erqueisite teaching.

All students, at all ages, should have access to the teaching that will allow them to succesfully apply, if they have the inate ability, to the best universities, and selection at any one single point prior to univeristy education to prepare them for university education is unjust.

Nov 01 2007 15:57

oh my, you're actually talking a little bit of boll*cks there. You've got your head fixed on this idea of social mobility as if everyone who tries hard to get into a grammar school/ get into uni, is trying to jump a sicial class (and prove nothing).

So your argument against grammar schools, as I can tell from the last para of your essay above, is that is it unfair. right. that isn't very strong.

It is more unfair to get rid of grammar school which push these children to acheive better than the would in comprehensives (fact) on the basis that it's not fair they they get this opportunity and nothers don't.

It's also possible to apply to grammar schools in year 9, and after GSCE, so it's hardly a case of -if you fail the 11+ you will never be the academic elite-

I just don't see an argument for getting rid of grammar schools, and compounding the argument with a counter discussion about "social mobility" - which is pretty much irrelevant, isn't helping your case!

Grammar schools aren't "pretend[ing] to select the academic elite" at 11, they simply teach the best performing individuals separately. Of course you get geniuses who come out of comprehensives too. This is no reason to get rid of grammar schools, the function well and give people a hardworking environment which allows them to further themselves.

Nov 01 2007 20:46

As a former undergrad. at IC many, many years ago, and now a parent watching my children struggle through the dire mire that is much of today's state education system, may I offer a few comments?

Back in the 1960's, the grammar schools certainly helped a lot of kids from poorer homes move their education forward without the bullying that so often goes with being "bright". I, for one, benefited from that. Several of my pals at IC had been "late developers" and come up through Secondary Modern schools - it was a damned route, but it could be done. They generally found they suffered less bullying because most of the active bullies dropped out as soon as no-one would notice.

Today things have changed markedly. In the comprehensive system, all the children are there until 16, and their parents might be jailed if their children do not attend. This builds up a head of frustration that seems to result in a far greater level of bullying than I think my or my cohorts could have imagined thirty or forty years ago.

For this reason, if often for no other, many parents make huge sacrifices to finance their children's education. This is a sympton of the disease in the system, not its diagnosis.

We have to accept that in academic study, just as in playing soccer or rugby or a musical instrument or whatever some people have a greater natural talent than others. The key thing in the design of our education system is to recognise this and devise a system which bests suits the differences between people. It may be that some sort of Grammar school system would achieve this, and I personally believe that grammar schools are a better option than 12-class entry, 2,000 plus pupils, one size fits all comprehensives.

24. Seb   
Nov 05 2007 00:37

"You've got your head fixed on this idea of social mobility"

Er, it is the argument for "more Grammar schools". If Grammar schools are not providing social mobility, why should the taxpayer be forking out for them?

Grammar schools are only grammar schools if they are exclusive. The argument here is not about closing existing grammars, but whether we should be moving back to the pre-comp situation where we select a small percentage of people only to be educated for University.

This is deeply iniquitous when you consider that 50% of people go for degrees. Unless you expect 50% of state educated pupils to be going to Grammars, then you are leaving the middle and lower ranking independents to monopolise university entries.

Grammars: good schools, but not an engine of social mobility. They provide access to the best universities for some of the brightest non-independent school pupils. They do not do anything about that vast tranch of "middle class" jobs which are monopolised by the middle class.

Cameron has it right: if the aim is (and it should be) to promote social mobility, then we need streaming and setting in every school.

If we are really going to extract and stream a small percentage of pupils, I think better bang for buck would be not to expand the grammar school stream nationally, but frankly to create a stream of schools for the disruptive.

Now, the problem IC faces is that many state schools are abandoning sciences and maths teaching. That is an argue of specialisation by subject (not ability), and that is in part what the specialist schools are aimed at...

But this harumphing about the need to expand Grammar school places and how the decline in Grammars led to the decline in social mobility is poor analysis, especially from someone with a science background. Correlation is not causality, and it is quite easy to see that the expansion of higher education is a bigger impact on social mobility (if you understand what how that is measured and what it means) by ensuring the children of the middle class are guaranteed a middle class job via mediocre degrees from the middle and lower tiers of higher education (sorry to be a snob, someone mentioned Portsmouth as a destination for well coached but not stellar middle class kids who's parents get them into grammars, or pay for indpendent education), whereas children of the poorest may be lucky enough to get into a grammar (if their background doesn't disadvantage them in the entry requirements for grammars), but probably end up in a comp and are less likely to get into those university places that ensure that very few middle class kids end up in a lower economic quartile.

Nov 05 2007 12:30

Don't denigrate an Australian education. Australia has produced more Nobel prize winners per head of population than any other country in the world. see:

What bothers me is that Imperial is falling behind in this regard. see:

26. @ seb   
Nov 05 2007 13:26

First of all... perhaps you should consider why you attended Imperial College. By going to an "Elite" university, you are aiding the system of separation. (I make no apologies for calling Imperial an elite university in the United Kingdom.)

If all schools, universities, jobs are all the same... there will be no need for social mobility; everyone would be on level playing field.

I believe that if people work hard, they should be recognised (and may be rewarded). If someone gets good grades, the he deserves to go to a good school and then a good university, after that, get a good job and then a good life. Being able to get into a grammar school is recognition of hard work, not an impediment for others to achieve good future. If the others are so determined themselves to move up the ?ranks?, then work harder and get the grades.

Whether ones future should be determined at the age of 11/12 is a different argument.

PS he covers both males and females according to the Society of Queen?s English.

27. Seb   
Nov 05 2007 14:40

You are rather profoundly missing the point.

Social Mobility is defined in terms of the probability of somoene born into one economic quartile ending up in another one. Note the definition: It's a zero sum game. Upward social mobility requires downward social mobility, and the middle class dominance of second and third tier universities gaurantees that their children will rarely move down an economic rung.

The reduction in Social mobility over the last three decades isn't predominantly comming from the range of people attending the elite universities which provide the majority of places in the top economic quartiles, it's the range of people attending middling universities that make up the bulk of the expansion of the higher education sector.

"the he deserves to go to a good school"

And if he starts in a bad school that inhibits him getting good grades?

And why restrict the "good schools" to a limited percentage of the population based on a test?

It's not an impediment to others no, but that is not and has not been the point. I'm rather surprised that people seem to want to have a different discussion than the one we are having.

I am not arguing that Grammar Schools are an impediment to others. I am arguing that the decline in their number is not responsible for the decline in social mobility, that they will not increase social mobility in an economy when the middle economic quartiles are dominated not by excellence that Grammars aim for, but by mediocre jobs secured by mediocre degrees which neverthelss the poorest have impared access too due to the failings of the state education system. Therefore there is no political argument for "bringing back grammar schools".

The whole concept of Grammar schools is from a very different era:

Only the top x % of most inteligent people will go to university. Since then the proportion of the population attending university has more than doubled, depending on when you take your reference point. IIRC it was something like 15% in the 60's.

In that context, it provided social mobility as it opened up to the top jobs attained through elite universities to everyone, while the lower economic quartiles were relatively intermobile.

The idea of selecting a narrow number of state pupils for elite education just doesn't make sense in an era where we are expecting ~50% (and we are pretty close to that) to go into higher education.

Trying to make grammar school out as a reward for working hard is a poor fig leaf at best: the number of places is strictily limited, it can ONLY be a reward for a relatively small number of pupils. You may have grammar places for 10% of the sate educated pupils, and find 15% of the population making up a defined cluster of hard workers... so the top 10% of that 15% get "rewarded"... fine then, as a method for rationing scarce resource (good education), but it's still not going to impact on social mobility.

Ok, so we can expand on that, increase the number of Grammar schools. Taken to it's limit, ultimately, what you are saying is you want a fully selective state system, much like the indpendent system, catering for the dim through to the mediocre up to the brightest. Fine, I can see the merits of that, but you can get to the same result by streaming and setting within schools, with the benefit you also get the localism that many people want in public services.

Do we really need Grammars to achieve streaming and or setting? I don't see why.

Can you argue that Grammar Schools are needed to improve social mobility: Only if you intend ~50% of pupils to be attending Grammar schools, which is a long way from the orrigional concept of Grammar schools. If you remain with only a small limited number of grammar places, keeping it elite, you are only changing the educational experience of a very narrow number of state pupils, and it will have no impact on the actual measure of social mobility.

Fundementaly, the flaw in this argument that Grammar Schools Provide Social mobility is that you are looking at an educational model that is based around elitism, while we are working in an economy where the majority of people (the middle classes) are rewarded financaily for mediocrity which they can easily gaurantee, while the poorest tend to have to be excelent to move up economic quartiles. The statistics show that: the probability of moving into a lower economic quartile from the one you are born into, if you are middle class, is very low, and the price of that is that correspondingly there is a low probability of someone born into a lower quartile moving up.

28. Seb   
Nov 05 2007 15:31

" so the top 10% of that 15%"

I mean of course, "the top 66% of that 15%"

Nov 05 2007 22:55

Seb, nobody cares

Nov 05 2007 22:56

Jan 27 2008 11:58

I am achieving level 7 in year 8 already, i go to a good school ctc in solihul birmingham but i am being held back having to work with people of less ability i do work then i have nothing to do i find it to easy i know i could do well in grammar school and my mum wants to send me private school but she cannot afford it and they only give scholarships in year 7! What shall i do? Please answer back. Thank you

32. James   
Jan 27 2008 18:49


I trust that you have understood why Mr Sykes and other like-minded people would like to encourage young people like you to excel at your own pace. Very bets of luck in the future!

My suggestion to you would be,

1. Find an academic interest that really fascinates you, do some extra reading/studying in that area. It will do you no harm if you like the topic so much.

2. Studying is not the only important thing in life. Find some extra-curricular things to do. Sports, music, helping people, etc.

Studying is only part of a life long lesson to become "better". A well rounded individual is always more likeable than any mathematics genius or science boff or any other pure book worms - we have calculators and computers for that.

Go have a relaxed fun! - But don't forget the study.

Feb 28 2008 19:26

I live in a part of Ireland where the 11+ still exists, for a year anyway, many of us, circa 67% wish it's retention but are stuck with a Sinn Fein minister who wants to 'dumb down' education and, ironically, bring it into line with the British model (so much for republicianism).

I have two children who, with a little tutoring passed their 11+ and so we, on relativly low incomes, were able to send our bright children to the best schools in Ireland, this is the benefit of the 11+, my own brothers and sisters benefited equally through passing it years ago and now have high income jobs, paying for their education many times over.

I must agree with Mr Sykes, secondary level schools ought to be developed to teach those more able children to undertake the jobs in vocational sectors while the more academic children can apply their talents in other ways.

May 07 2008 10:01

You do know even if you fail the 11+ you can still get into Grammer schools if you get 4/5 B's in your GCSE's, i got this, and am redoing year 12 at a grammer school!

May 07 2008 10:23

*Grammar* school. Was one of your Bs in English?

36. Ken   
Dec 18 2008 07:04

This is nonsense. I went to a secondary school: doomed forever to be second class. I am now a Barrister and Chartered Accountant on three continents, have two bachelors degrees (one with first class honors) and a masters degree and am getting a PHD. The trouble with people like Sykes is that they are not very good and make life a difficulty for the rest of us.

37. Pan   
Dec 23 2008 11:57

.........."The trouble with people like Sykes is that they are not very good"

Now here's a constructive argument that one would expect to hear from a barrister, chartered accountant on three continents, who is getting a PhD

Dec 23 2008 12:36

"not very good"? In what respect? Are you commenting on his idea? Attitude? Or him as a person?

Very well that you are a barrister, chartered accountant with two bachelors degrees, a masters and a soon to be PhD. (note the proper use of capital letters) That only points to your personal success. There are a lot of bright kids being held back at state schools, who are not getting the right education for their potential.

Going to univeristy is just another layer of excellence. There are only a few differences between being selected to go to grammer schools vs state schools and being selected to go to a very good univeristy vs a less good univeristy. Likewise, you chose certain professions to gain a better standard of life. Why not start earlier in the school stage?

It is about giving people the option where appropriate.

Dec 23 2008 12:42

"not very good"? In what respect? Are you commenting on his idea? Attitude? Or him as a person?

Very well that you are a barrister, chartered accountant with two bachelors degrees, a masters and a soon to be PhD. (note the proper use of capital letters) That only points to your personal success. There are a lot of bright kids being held back at state schools, who are not getting the right education for their potential.

Going to univeristy is just another layer of excellence. There are only a few differences between being selected to go to grammer schools vs state schools and being selected to go to a very good univeristy vs a less good univeristy. Likewise, you chose certain professions to gain a better standard of life. Why not start earlier in the school stage?

It is about giving people the option where appropriate.

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