News editor’s comment: Grammar schools mask major flaws

Bucks Herald news editor Adam King
Bucks Herald news editor Adam King

People tell me my 19-month-old daughter is particularly bright. I hope they’re right because pressure is already mounting for her to pass her 11-plus.

It’s ludicrous, I know.

And if I bought the spin that local politicans have traditionally spouted about us having one of the best education systems in the country I wouldn’t be nearly so worried. But I don’t – and I was glad to see last week a probe was launched into educational inequalities in Bucks which are frankly a disgrace for such a prosperous county.

My own situation serves as a good example.

My family lives in the middle of Aylesbury. In four years’ time little Lucy will start primary education and our nearest schools are Elmhurst and Haydon Abbey.

Both schools were judged by Ofsted to ‘require improvement’. Of course, in four years’ time they may have improved dramatically, but on current form I am stuck with two sub-standard choices. And what about in ten years time, when we’re considering her upper school? This is where the inequalities in Bucks become most apparent.

If Lucy fails her 11-plus her nearest schools are Aylesbury Vale Academy and Mandeville, which were also given Ofsted ratings which today equate to ‘requires improvement’.

This year 59% of academy students failed to gain five GCSE A-C grades. The Mandeville didn’t dare reveal its results.

So on current form if Lucy wants to guarantee a good school she better pass her 11-plus.

I used to be a passionate supporter of grammar schools, based on the romantic notion that a smart kid from a poor family could pass the 11-plus, get a private-school-quality education and end up at Oxford. But now I’m not so sure that actually happens much in real life. Far too many children who go to the grammars either come from prep schools or are at the very least given expensive private tutoring to prepare them for the 11-plus. Ofsted reports that ‘very few’ students at Aylesbury High School come from the poorest families.

For too many years now, politicans have used the smokescreen the grammars provide to cover up fundamental failings. The county council’s probe must be thorough and not afraid to question the future of the grammar-school system.

If things are ever going to improve, the first thing we need to do is accept the shortcomings of the education system in Bucks and then make sure we do something about it.