Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hands Off My Baby Paisley!

Apparently the DUP are saying that they managed to secure 'the retention of academic selection in the province's post-primary sector' as part of the devolution package.

I failed the 11plus exam. Then I resat the whole year again (because hey, I was young for the class and clearly had nothing better to do with an entire year of my life) and promptly failed it again. I've got to say it didn't bother me at all at the time. I got to go to the big school with my friends. And my parents were cool about it too. No great feeling of disappointment. So I went to high school and at 16 I thought I'd leave and get a job. And then something unexpected happened. I aced my GCSEs. Like, passed them really well. It was quite a shock. And I wondered what to do. Well, I had no big plans about working or anything so I applied to grammar school and started studying for A-levels. And when I was finished then I would get a job. And then something else unexpected happened. I passed those exams pretty well too. I had no great plans for university or anything but once again I thought 'why not?' so that's what I did...

And now here I am teaching students, some of whom passed the 11plus and some of whom didn't.

It didn't do me much harm, did it? Failing that exam. I mean my life took the same path as my sister's and she had passed her's, gone straight to grammar school, did not pass 'go', did not collect any stigma...

But it wasn't the same path.

When I think about how many times it was made difficult for me to move on in education and how many times I almost left and missed out on the studying that I came to truly love it makes me crazy with anger to think how we are still dividing children into 'smart' and 'not-so-smart' at age 11 (or any bloody age! People change folks!).

I had to leave my school when I was 16. The school I loved, the friends and teachers I knew. I had to get better grades than the grammar school kids in order to study A-levels with them. I didn't enjoy 6th year. Grammar school was different to the one I went to and I was never comfortable with that. I stopped playing the violin and quit my interest in drama. I almost left after about 3 months, convinced that everyone but me knew what they were doing (despite eventually doing better than many in my classes). I had no notion of going to university. No-one in my immediate family had done so and they were very pleased I had got as far as I did. I only applied because I thought it was 'the rules' that everyone had to and I had little intention of actually going. I applied for random courses that I knew nothing about and luckily one of them was at Queen's and luckily I got the grades to take that course and luckily they let me change my course completely after 2 weeks so I could take English which was looking a lot more interesting than it did when I was at school....

There are several points when that test that I repeated and repeatedly failed could have seriously mucked up the path I eventually took and I wonder how many other people missed out on something they could really have benefited from because they didn't have the luck I had.

And now this nonsense from the DUP. I find it thoroughly depressing. Sometimes I think Northern Ireland deserves everything it gets because we keep voting in these backwards-looking politicians. And what of Blair and the rest? It makes me so cross because I see as an insider in the world of education how a non-selective, integrated system can work.

The school I teach in does not select on the basis of academic ability. We are integrated and coeducational. And we have recently been in the papers as the top non-grammar school in our GCSE results. Apparently the big scaremongering voice that says 'you can't mix children who appear to do exceptionally well with those who appear to struggle (or even those who motor along just nicely thanks)' is lying to us! Woo ! And guess what? Our school even sends people (lots of people actually) to university and they can get first class degrees and everything! Double woo! And mixing with students who are different to them will not harm them! In fact it might even be good for them! In fact, the idea is that mixing with people who are different to you can be a very positive learning experience!

What a novel idea! Perhaps this is something that the DUP can learn when they finally sit down to do business with Sinn Fein et al. Perhaps if they had been to a school like our's they wouldn't have had a such a problem with difference in the first place. How ironic that this move which will serve to further stall the long-overdue move to eradicate academic selection might be the one which brings the DUP together with those they have avoided for so long.

2 comments:

The Father said...

Its a tough one - Heard Jeanette winterson speaking at the Book fest ion edinburgh in the summer...... strangely she was a big supporter of the grammar school system .... describing as a lifeboat for someone like her . Poor working class and with parents who had no interest in education. The grammar school lifted her out of that and raised her sights and expectations. She also was scathing about the middle class wankers of Labour who had destroyed that system while still sending their own children to private schools .

mister tumnus said...

the system was orginally set up for kids like winterson was (and i am familiar with her views). but those days are long gone. what you get more than anything now is a system which segregates middle and working class.

to be honest i can't get too cross about people sending their kids to private schools either. it's all very well to get liberal about it but when it's your kid and it's a choice between a school that has to use people who aren't trained teachers to teach (because they can't get trained ones because they're in such difficulties) and a school which has smaller classes in which your kid might have a hope of getting the attention they need, i know what i'd do if i had the money. i think the blame for the education crisis has to be set squarely at the door of a government who insists on a illegal war which is costing untold thousands (millions?) of pounds while claiming they can't make failing schools better because they can't find the cash. bollocks they can't. every school ought to be as well funded as private schools without the need for them to become private. and it IS possible....