The schools are not the thing…

Roisin McAuley has experience of the school system in England, and what she sees is an incoherent mess, rather than a system. She has three top tips, based on her experience, on the significance of schooling:

Firstly, four things are important in education. Innate intelligence, home background, peer group and school. An intelligent child, with supportive parents and motivated friends at a good school, will rise to the top in any career. A child with any three of the above will still succeed in whatever field they choose. If two of these factors are in place, the child will be fine. If only one is in place, the child will struggle. If none is in place, the unfortunate child will probably end up in prison.

Secondly, although private and selective schools dominate entry to university in England, pupils from state comprehensives leave with better degrees. (One theory is that private and grammar school pupils enter university less well equipped to study on their own because they’ve been spoon-fed.)

Thirdly, people end up pretty much where they were going to end up anyway. They might take longer to get there, but most of them get there in the end. I’ve met a lot of 11-plus ‘failures’ who provide jobs for the ones that passed.

Number two is particularly interesting. I recall Bristol University trying an experiment of lowering entry qualifications for certain working class schools and then tightening standards as the students progress through their degree courses. Though I have no idea of the outcome.

  • Alan

    *people end up pretty much where they were going to end up anyway.*


    Despite being brought up as a Presbyterian, I always had a problem with predestination. We’d be a lot more competitive in the world, if we were all given the same chance to reach our potential.

    Education should give you wings, not plant obstacles in your path – particularly if we are all paying for it!

  • eranu

    “Firstly, four things are important in education. Innate intelligence, home background, peer group and school. An intelligent child, with supportive parents and motivated friends at a good school, will rise to the top in any career. ”

    i went to a grammar school located beside a fairly rough secondary school. i had some contact with people in the secondary school. i could see how it was in both schools. i support selection and grammar schools simply because when you put less intelligent and disruptive kids together with intelligent reasonabley well behaved kids, then the second group gets dragged down by the first. this happens from things like the general average attitude in the school to things like behaving and working in class and bothering to do homework and obeying what the teacher tells you to do.
    i think roisin summed it up pretty well above.

    streaming in a comprehensive system wouldnt really separate the 2 types of kids enough. i think thats why our grammar school kids always come top of the UK results when it comes to GCSE and A level results.
    what should be done is to keep our selection and grammar schools and concentrate on improving secondary schools. this would take a bigger effort to give the kids a descent education, kids whose parents dont give a toss what they do at school. the kids that arent going to do well in education should be steered toward some sort of skill or trade. unfortunately i think people are guilted with the argument that all kids have to be treated the same and no one can be branded a failure or have there feelings hurt. this is pc crap. life is not like that.

  • susan

    Several assumptions there – 1/that the children in grammar schools are more intelligent than those in secondary schools. Because of the fall in birth rate nowadays grammar schools take down to c1.
    2/That intelligence equals good behaviour. Not necessarily so.
    3/That the current system accurately measures intelligence – it doesn’t.
    4/Not all secondary school children’s parents don’t care about their children or their education. Mine did.
    Or are you saying that schools should select by class which is what I think a lot of the grammar school advocates are really saying?

  • willis


    Yeah but no but

    There are folks arguing from the “Don’t hurt anyones feelings” camp, but there are rather more I suspect, like myself who consider the current system not too bad but nowhere near as good as the 11+ zealots paint it. Roisin’s piece was good common sense, yeah we need to appreciate what we have got, and I do.


    It is not good enough just to say that the secondary schools need to be better. They have tried, I can assure you, and it must be galling for them to feel they are being blamed for where we are now. The governments proposals are not for a comprehensive system as comprehensive supporters will tell you. They are an attempt to get the best of both worlds ie fairness and good schools. They might make a complete mess of it, not for the first time, and certainly if they drive the “best” grammar schools into independence it will be a disaster.

    However they are trying, they might improve our system. What is lacking at the moment is good will from the DUP in particular, despite the fact that they have intelligent MPs and MLAs who know where the problems lie but are being effectively shouted down.


  • eranu

    hi susan,
    intelligence – the 11plus exam is a test. those who answer more questions correctly score higher than those who answer only a few correctly. to get the answer right they must have learned the subject or learned rules and methods etc eg maths. that all comes to a reasonable test of intelligence. call it educational intelligence possibley, rather than a general intelligence test. but to put it bluntly, some people are smart, some arent so smart. the rest are in between! thats just a fact of life. by the way there were 3 grades when i did it, i got the middle grade.

    yeah, intelligence doesnt equal good behaviour in school. but its a reasonable generalisation. you’d have to admit the disruptive kids in the class are usually not the smartest cookies are they??? this might be wrong for some kids, but without commenting on every school kid i have to make a generalisation.

    parents – sorry, maybe i didnt make it clear but i didnt mean all the parents dont give a toss about their kids. as both my parents were teachers i know that there are parents out there that dont care about what their kid does at school. those kids that dont have any support at home are the ones that need the extra help / encouragement at school.

    class – im definately not thinking about class here. our school was working class and middle class and not elitist or anything like that. although im sure some people on the grammar school side are thinking in class terms.

    by the way i think i remember hearing that girls do better at single sex schools. maybe thats one for another thread! 🙂

    willis, i dont mean to condemn secondary schools, just saying that they need more help to get their kids the best qualifications or skills possible. our secondary schools are at the bottom of UK results i think. i meant this in the form of more money/resources and not getting more out of the teaching staff – who i know have a tough time as it is !!

  • DK

    At the school I went to (a state school in England) we had about 7 different streams from the best to the worst for classes. There were then 3 different streams per lesson (best, middle, worst). So you could be in different streams for different lessons, depending on how good you were at each one. There was also a promotion/relegation system so you could move between streams. The problem with the 11+ is that once you are sorted, you are stuck.

  • Reader

    DK: The problem with the 11+ is that once you are sorted, you are stuck.
    There are far more supporters of selection than of the 11+. And when I was in Grammer school (ages ago), there was streaming there too, to separate the more able from the less able pupils, and the banding was revised each year. I doubt they have forgotten how to do that.

  • willis

    I really was beginning to worry that the Tele had “sold the pass” on the 11+ debate but today’s collection is a delight
    since it focusses on the area where there is no dispute, the uality of teaching in Northern Ireland.