Jayne Dawson: My grammar wasn't a patch on schools today

So here's a little story. One summer's day, many lifetimes ago, I climbed up the bankings and made my way home, dragging the toes of my sandals along the path as I went since I was conducting a campaign to be allowed some white plastic ones with heels.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 13th September 2016, 11:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th September 2016, 3:45 pm
BEST YEARS: But a good school doesnt have to be based on selective entry.
BEST YEARS: But a good school doesnt have to be based on selective entry.

But I stopped scuffing sharpish at the unusual sight of my mother standing at our door waiting for me, and with a smile on her face. Turned out I had passed my eleven plus and was off to an all-girls’ grammar school.

From then on things changed. There was much uniform buying, and that was lovely. I felt important twirling in my new gymslip and gaberdine, encased in fabrics that were thicker and darker than any I had worn before.

Things also changed with my friend at the end of the street. She hadn’t passed and would be attending a different school, and the brutal truth is that we were never friends again: that results letter was as good as a Berlin wall between us.

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And then there was the school with its frightening facade of many blank windows, and a maths teacher within who was both terrifying and terrible: ”What do you mean you don’t understand it? It’s not written in German, go back and read it again.” I got through the years, after a fashion.

What I didn’t realise then was that my school was a short-lived social experiment that was reaching its end. Three years later the eleven plus was abandoned in Leeds - but it is true that we working class girls who had passed it mostly ended up in jobs that were decent, our prospects improved by our education.

So you might expect me to be a supporter of Theresa May’s plan to reintroduce the type of school from which I benefited, but I’m not.

I think my school was poor, and couldn’t hold a candle to a good comprehensive today – I had only to watch Educating Yorkshire to realise that, by comparison, my own education had been a cold business where supportive teachers were thin on the ground, and we weren’t encouraged to support each other either. In my grammar school, you were left to either pass your exams or fail, and that was that.

It isn’t like that now. A good comprehensive can give a child more, from good academic exam results to vocational qualifications.

And yet I understand the headline-grabbing appeal of a grammar. Parents see them as a sure-fire leg up in the world. 
They forget that not every child 
can attend, and who gets in is a decision made by the school, 
not them.

That’s a big deal because if a grammar school is a badge of honour then any other type of school has to be a badge of failure, which is a huge burden for an eleven-year-old to carry.

And then there is the unfairness of the selection process: the number of children who pass has to match the number of places available. In Leeds, when grammar schools were in their prime, one in five children passed. In some southern regions, it was nearer one in two because there were more grammar schools in affluent southern towns.

Just to be clear, I’m not being a bleeding heart. I don’t just think grammar schools are rubbish just because the system is a bit tough, a bit mean. I think grammar schools are rubbish because they can’t fulfill society’s needs.

I think education should be inclusive, and secular. I don’t like free schools, faith schools or academies. I think our schools should share a national curriculum and give our children some basic shared values, because that is the way to create a safe, tolerant, stable society.

Here’s the thing. Mass education has a relatively short history: my mum and dad hung on at school by the skin of their teeth until they were 15 years old; their parents barely went to school at all.

We have learned a lot in a short time, grammar schools were part of the learning curve but we know more now, and we can do better.

Bake Off is going stale

Well I can tell you now I won’t be watching. And I will tell you something else - I bet Mary isn’t pleased.

The outrageous news has been announced that The Great British Bake Off is leaving the BBC.

What? It’s like the Royal family leaving Buckingham Palace; It’s like the government leaving Westminster, it’s like Geordie Shore moving to Liverpool. Just ridiculous.

The Bake Off belongs on the BBC. And Mary belongs on the BBC. It’s a perfect, yes, recipe.

I mean, I can imagine Paul Hollywood on other channels; that man has always had a look that wasn’t strictly Beeb, but not Mary.

But apparently the BBC couldn’t pay enough, so the makers are taking their show to Channel 4.

It’s so successful there will be plenty of, yes, dough coming their way. But I think it’s a mistake.

That tent, those rainy days, they were made for the BBC.

Heck, I didn’t like it went they swapped the show from the quiet corridors of BBC 2.

It’s just not going to thrive anywhere else.

The makers say they have big plans for the brand. Well that makes my heart, yes, sink.

Television studios are littered with the corpses of those who tried to channel hop. It rarely pays off. I think Bake Off might just have begun the slide to, yes, the soggy bottom.

Flying the flag for all 90-year-olds

Save your breath, I know all the arguments. She is rich, she is privileged, nothing she does is representative of the normal woman, or man.

But still, it makes my little heart lift every time I see the 90-year-old Queen defying our views about what a woman of her years should be doing.

When I see her riding her horse I give a little secret cheer, even though I would rather like a horse myself but couldn’t possibly afford it.

When I saw her give William a brisk telling-off on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for not standing up in honour of the RAF fly-past, I felt all happy inside.

And this week when I saw pictures of her driving Kate and a security chap around Scottish lanes, instead of sitting in the back like the little grandma, I was overjoyed.

I know her life is different and she is given respect by virtue of her position, but every little helps in the ongoing process of educating ourselves not to treat old people like helpless idiots.