Friday, March 17, 2006

Neil gets an education

Neil has stated that he doesn't accept the results of an IQ test that says that he is less intelligent than myself. Fair enough, it is, after all, billed as the "quick and dirty" IQ test and seems to be slightly flawed.

However, Neil then goes on to talk about selection in schools.
I went to a comprehensive in the West Midlands, but I failed my 11 plus.

Which is very sporting of him to admit: I, on the other hand, scored well over 90%. I guess the 11+ really was a flawed exam then...

I have to say that I really don't get the problem with grammar schools. Honestly.
A lot of the most able pupils who would have gone to my comprehensive were creamed off to a grammar school 3 miles away.

See, "creamed off" makes the whole thing sound so elitist and derogatory.

Here's what actually happens. Children take a test; if they have sufficient intelligence to pass the test, then they go to a grammar school. Lefties don't like grammar schools because it smacks of elitism, because grammars usually get better exam results. They get better exam results because they have brighter children.

The rest of the children go to comprehensives. Comprehensives don't get such good results because they don't have such bright children. If one were to mix bright children into comprehensives, then their average grades would go up. If one were to mix less bright children into grammar schools, the grades would go down.

In other words, were grammar schools not selective, then they would not be so desirable. In fact, they would be pointless because they would just be comprehensives. Am I missing something here?

Surely what is important is the individual student's achievements? Isn't that what we really care about? And the thing about comprehensives is that they are comprehensively shit: I would lay a wager (alas, it would be impossible to prove, due to the vagaries of the human condition) that a child going to a comprehensive would get worse exam marks than that same student going to a grammar school.

12 comments:

Katy Newton said...

I went to a public school for three years and then moved to a comprehensive. The comprehensive was a good one. I was in the top stream for classes that were streamed and I can honestly say that I didn't register a difference between the quality of teaching in the top stream at the comprehensive and that at the public school. Of course, that was a while ago now.

The difference between public/grammar schools and comprehensive schools, and the reason why I still think that grammar schools are better for brighter children, is the quality of student, and the attitude of comprehensive schools to intelligent and ambitious children. At the public school we were all encouraged to compete to give the right answer first. At the comprehensive I was taken aside by a teacher and asked if I could stop raising my hand to answer questions because it might be intimidating those students who needed more time to think than I did. I was also told off for reading ahead in my languages books (in my own time) for the same reason.

I had had three years of very good teaching amongst very intelligent students who all wanted to be the best, and so I carried on because getting good marks mattered to me and I don't think that being at a comprehensive undermined that. But comprehensives, rather than rewarding the intelligent, try to hold back intelligent students in order to spare the feelings of the less intelligent/motivated ones. If you're already intelligent and motivated to learn, you'll do well wherever you go because you can't help it, but comprehensives not only don't foster that motivation in people who don't already have it, they actually discourage its development.

That was my experience, anyway, and that is why I would send my children to a grammar school or a public school. But not the one that I went to, which was full of anorexics.

Jim said...

I went to a comprehensive, and never felt I was being "held back" through some PC desire to let everybody learn at the same pace. Then again, I was never told off for "reading ahead in my languages books (in my own time)" even though I did it every moment I could. Maybe the teachers at Katy N's comprehensive had a little too much time on their hands?

In the end, it all boils down to the teachers you have, and how motivated they are to teach you. I feel very lucky that I had teachers that were always aware of the duty to their pupils, even though the pupils weren't always aware of vice versa. That's where DK's argument falls down - he doesn't accept that both comprehensive and grammer schools have committed and motivated teachers (despite Blunkett/Clarke/Kelly's interventions), and these teachers will do whatever they can to help the kids in their classrooms.

Anonymous said...

My experience is similar to Jim's. I went to a comprehensive (no 11+ where I am grew up) and never felt as if I was being held back. All the GCSE classes past third year were setted.There were even some special classes for the extra bright kids. I had some fantastic teachers too, who went way beyond the call of duty if you needed them. And my exam results were extremely good (not trying to brag there, but thems the facts).

The trouble, I've always thought, with an 11+ is that it grades and classifies children at an extremely early age. I can't personally see any reason why setting for each subject can't give you all the advantages of selection with the advantages of a comprehensive education (i.e. flexibility). Any thoughts on that from anyone?

Anonymous said...

I failed my 11+ on maths, so went to the local comprehensive. I was a late developer - I didn't "get it" until I was about 14 when suddenly it all clicked into place and trigonometry suddenly made sense.

I don't have a problem with selection. I do have a problem with a system that sidelines children, effectively consigning them to the educational scrapheap because they develop later than their peers. That, or I had crap maths teachers...

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I don't regard my failure at 11+ as an indication of my intelligence. Much of my education is self-taught (which is, perhaps, a comment on our education system). DK is probably correct; had I had the benefit of a grammar school secondary education, my exam results would, likely as not have been better. I might even have experienced that "eureka" moment earlier.

But - the lack of decent formal education hasn't held me back. If sufficiently self-motivated, an individual can manage perfectly well despite the state system.

Katy Newton said...

The key is streaming, I think. In the streamed classes I never had a problem. It was in the unstreamed classes - and at A level all the classes were unstreamed - that things got difficult.

Ideally you would have a situation where all schools were comprehensive, but they all streamed for all subjects so that students felt neither held back nor intimidated. I agree that an 11+ is unfair; the good thing with the streamed classes at my comprehensive was that every year they reassessed which stream you ought to be in on the basis of your end of year exam result and also on your coursework.

MatGB said...

Katy's last comment is my preferred.

I passed my 11+ (Torbay still has it, as do Plymouth and Kent), yet my sister failed hers. She ended up with better GCSE results, but her school pushed her to go train to be a secretary, my school pushed me to go be an academic (I had a careers advisor tell me I should do PPE at Oxford ferchrissakes, after he'd seen my apathy driven results).

My school didn't stream, so I ended up in sciences classes with kids who had just scraped a pass, in one case because his parents had paid for lots of tutoring to get him through the exam, not in his best interests and he was a pain in the class.

DK; your definition of a comprehensive is off. Some school call themselves comps, but aren't, because the local grammar or other selective schools take off the cream. A Comp has to be all in and streamed in order to work. Otherwise its grammars and secondary moderns.

I've had a bad experience of grammar school, I really think they remain a very bad idea. Proper, all in comps, with streaming. The streaming system you described from Eton souned about right Chris, not selection based on one exam at 11.

Anonymous said...

It is important though I think to make sure we all know what we mean by "streaming". There was a practise at one point to stream across the board - i.e. there was stream 1, where all the kids in that stream were in classes together, stream 2 and so on. That was effectively several different schools in one school.

What I have referred to as "setting" is what other people might mean as streaming - i.e. for each class, people are setted (past a certain point) subject by subject, so someone good at science but crap at English could be in set 1 for science but set 4 for English. That makes much more sense to my mind, and I don't think any schools don't do that, comprehensive or grammar.

Katy Newton said...

I think that my "streaming" and Katherine's "setting" are the same thing, and agree. At the public school I went to, only Maths was streamed, for some reason, which meant that in languages classes I got really bored because they were too slow. (If you have an ear for languages you don't really need classes to learn them, they just sort of learn themselves. I believe that other people are like that with Maths, but Maths is all Greek to me, ho ho.)

Up to A-level, the comprehensive was actually better for me as far as languages were concerned because they streamed for languages, science, English and Maths. Bizarrely, my problems with the school started at A-level.

L said...

I think I've been to more sorts of schools than anyone I know:

private prep school
state "elementary" and "high" schools in the USA
a moderate grammar school (in the UK)
a good grammar school (again in the UK)

The American experience was interesting. I was at school there in the 1950s (long time ago, I admit). Thing was, if you lived in a poor district, you went to a shit school (I went to one). If you lived in a rich district, you went to a great school (I went to one of those too).

Grammar schools give children from less privileged backgrounds a real chance. With comps, it really does seem to depend on where you live, i.e. how much moola your folks have. A broad rule of thumb, but nevertheless...

Only thing: I do feel that 11 is a bit young. Prep and public schools have it better - selection at 13.

MatGB said...

Katherine; that's exactly what I was talking about, and I'm pretty sure it's carried out (I know it is where a good friend of mine teaches, for example).

It's also what Hattersley described when he railed against Tony's new Bill.

I suspect, as it happens, that most of us are talking about very similar things, the problem I had at my grammar school was that there was no 'setting' by subject, we were all judged to be equally capable (except in maths at 14+ only) in all subjects; I was bored to death in science based subjects, yet very behind in some of the practically minded stuff (I'm a clutz, me and woodwork should never be allowed to mix).

That's within a grammar school. I reject grammar schools because of the damage they do to the community as a whole (the 'written off at 11' argument is so true) and because of what they can do tot heir pupils, especially those at the top end and those who don't really 'belong' there but whose parents couldn't take the 'failure' of having a less 'academic' child.

Soupdragon said...

Errr.... nearly of-topic, it seems, but still: the IQ test contains some questions you may not know if you're not American. A trunk full of dimes or nickels? Who give a shit? Learn to put numbers on your coins, man! American presidents? Don't get me started...
I went to a comprehensive, weren't allowed to take my GCSEs early, escaped wi 9 o them (all above B, but that's ok, cos "D is not a fail", arf arf). Studied one year of 3 A-Levels before fucking off to get a job and therefore, money.

The very model of a modern scientific man

Your humble Devil was thoroughly amused by Neil Ferguson's fall from grace, and is very pleased to have found the time to outline Fergus...