Is there an appetite in the region for the return of grammar schools?

City of Norwich Grammar School. Date: 1950

City of Norwich Grammar School. Date: 1950 - Credit: Archant

With the prospect of new grammar schools back on the agenda, political editor annabelle dickson asks if there is an appetite for a return to selection in our region

The debate about selective grammar schools is back on the agenda after claims the prime minister is planning to give a new wave the green light.

Education secretary Justine Greening last month confirmed that the issue was in her 'in tray' for consideration, and said that she was 'prepared to be open-minded' about school selection – although she suggested it would not be a binary choice, and a return to the old pattern of grammars and secondary moderns is unlikely.

But while Theresa May may be in favour, getting the support of the House of Commons may not be simple.

Opposition parties have already voiced their concerns, and senior backbencher Mark Pritchard suggested yesterday Mrs May would not have the support of enough Conservative MPs to give any plan the green light. He said the rumoured move would lack political legitimacy as it was not in the Tories' 2015 General Election manifesto.

King Edward VII grammar school, King's Lynn. Date: 1973

King Edward VII grammar school, King's Lynn. Date: 1973 - Credit: Archant

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Broadland MP Keith Simpson, a former pupil at Thorpe Grammar School, said he had some 'serious questions' about the various proposals.

'It was only a tiny proportion of boys and girls who went to grammar schools. But the great thing about the old grammar schools undoubtedly were that in many cases from the inter-war period onwards, they took boys and girls from fairly humble backgrounds and gave them a great life chance. Many took professional qualifications and went to university. But the questions I have in my mind is if the prime minister's objective was social mobility and this seems to be a strong element, that you want to give the best opportunities to bright girls and boys from poor backgrounds... I am not opposing it, but I have a number of questions to ask. I will be fascinated to see what proposals are going to be outlined.'

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Jim Perkins, a UKIP councillor who sits on the Children's Services Committee at Norfolk County Council, said he supported grammar schools, in line with his party's policy.

He was a pupil at Gravesend Grammar School, in Kent, and said: 'Grammar schools always seem to me to be good for people who could progress socially if they came from working class backgrounds. When I was young, if you were working class you were only expected to go into factories or the land.'

Fakenham grammar school. Date: 1950s

Fakenham grammar school. Date: 1950s - Credit: Archant

I wasted 10 years

Richard Fox said the idea of bringing back grammar schools was outrageous.

The 62-year-old, who grew up in Lound near Lowestoft, failed the 11-plus. He had wanted to go to Lowestoft Grammar School, but ended up going to Lothing Secondary Modern.

After leaving school he reluctantly did an apprenticeship as a joiner – a job he 'hated from day one', while friends who had passed the 11-plus went straight to university.

'I decided it wasn't for me. I had to go back to college and study part-time initially, and ended up getting GCEs and A-Levels and then I went off to university and did my training to become a teacher.'

'If you think of the years I wasted by not going to grammar school and university straight away. I was 32 when I got my teacher training status.'

He said he still remembered the disappointment at failing the exam, particularly after his sister had passed and been given the opportunity to go to a grammar school, although she didn't take it.

He said that to determine the way your life is going to be set out for the next 40 years at the age of 11 was 'outrageous'.

'Mine was undone. I had the luck and drive to do something about it. There are people who won't get the chance. It is totally wrong to have any selection.'

Mr Fox, who was a teacher at Great Yarmouth High School for 18 years, an is now a supply teacher around the Lowestoft area, said he believed children had much more chance of going to university than he ever had.

'All children are encouraged to achieve as high as they possibly can. Looking back on it wasn't the case in my day.

'The teachers were good. Some were very good. But you knew you were going to do the jobs that were going to require skills using your hands, you weren't going to go to university. I have nothing against that. I learnt plenty of good skills which I put to good use. That has changed now. There are children now that you teach that in my day you might have been lost causes. Now they are not. 'They are all encouraged to do as well as they can.'

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