Grammar Schools: brief flowering of social mobility? (FORUM 3)

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Publication date: September 1, 2012

BERNARD BARKER

Grammar schools are increasingly remembered, especially by right-wing ideologues, as the agents of a ‘brief flowering’ of post-war social mobility. This article presents statistical, documentary and interview evidence of secondary education in the eleven plus era, and finds nothing to justify the claim that selective schools produced a general improvement in educational opportunity or social mobility. Detailed life history interviews with Don (b. 1941, secondary modern, then secondary technical) and Margaret (b. 1951, grammar) recreate the almost forgotten 1950s world where opportunity was rationed and bright children were complacently failed. Access to post-16 and university education became widely available only when governments adopted a very much more generous funding regime, and comprehensive schools removed the complex barriers to success created by selection. Nostalgic accounts of grammar schools are a classic case of recovered false memory syndrome.

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