Obsession with grammar schools just leaves poor children behind | Letters

Dr John Somers reflects on his path not taken, and Katy Simmons writes of the schools that are missing out

I read ‘We are in an education arms race’ (G2, 5 December) with interest and some dismay. I attended a very good village primary school in Wales immediately after the second world war and, from the beginning, was acutely aware that near the end of my time there I would take an exam, the result of which would decide whether I went to an urban grammar school or a rural secondary school.

The education received in each was wildly different, and when I passed the exam at the second attempt I entered a world of Latin, trigonometry and other studies. These seemed irrelevant to my life as a rabbit and mole-catching youngster living in a village house lit by oil lamps with a weekly tin bath in front of the living-room fire, where my mother seemed to work from the time her eyes opened until she slept. My subsequent career in education led me from an urban secondary modern to a comprehensive, a college of education and a university. I have worked extensively abroad, founded and edited an international research journal and held senior roles in my university. If I had gone to the rural secondary school – the curriculum of which prioritised rural skills including pig-keeping and gardening – I would probably have left at 14 and got a labouring job in my locality.

It is iniquitous that our government still has the ambition to establish more grammar schools. Placing children in schools according to perceived levels of intelligence at 11 is wrong and I look to a future Labour government to end this iniquity.
Dr John Somers
Payhembury, Devon

• While the majority of state schools are in a desperate financial state, sacking teachers and cutting back on what they can teach, Santa has come early to a privileged few (Campaigners condemn £50m grammar school expansion, 4 December). Two grammar schools near me have been the lucky winners, while the rest of us are looking at damaging cuts, despite the “little extras” bestowed in the recent budget. There’s no demand for these schools around here. Last year, neither school filled its year 7 places with local children. Neither local school gave evidence of having reached Damian Hinds’ “high bar”. Neither has any previous interest in disadvantaged students – one of the schools last year had 0.4% of its students on free school meals. The other school had 1.7%. Meanwhile, the non-selective school across the road has 22% of children on free school meals.

Most children will not benefit at all from this money. In the government’s Christmas bran tub, most children will draw an empty package. One of the lucky schools was set up in 1624 for “24 poor children”. It’s unlikely that any of them would be found in their classrooms today.
Katy Simmons
Burnham, Buckinghamshire

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