March 7: Secondary modern education was no barrier to success

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From: William Snowden, Dobrudden Park, Baildon Moor, Baildon.

IF education policy was utilitarian rather than doctrinaire, then Neil McNicholas’s argument for reversion of a system of selective schools might prevail (The Yorkshire Post, February 20). His well-informed article evoked wistful memories.

I attended my first college tutorial to find the tutor indulging in fulsome flattery: “You are the crème de la crème” he opined. “The scholastic elite of the country.” Addressing me, he surmised: “You went to...grammar school?”

“No, a secondary modern” I replied blithely, to his bemusement and the barely suppressed titters of my peer group.

It was a mischievous but delicious moment of inverted snobbery – but not the whole truth. You see, I chose to go to a secondary modern school. I chose to leave school at 15 (against the advice of the headmaster) to work and earn money and I subsequently chose to attend a further education college for three years, where I gained the distinction of a top student award (A- level results).

I relate this to dispel the notion that a secondary modern school was inferior, and disadvantaged pupils academically. We may not have reached the academic heights of the grammar schools, but we had good teachers, and classes were streamed to reflect the different abilities and aptitudes of the pupils.

The core curriculum ensured that all were literate and numerate and acquired a good, general knowledge of history, geography, science et al. For the top stream, the syllabus was more academic, with French, art, music etc. In the lower streams, the emphasis was on the acquisition of practical skills like woodwork, metal work and rural studies which was a form of prerequisite training for the trade apprenticeships which many pupils would ultimately undertake.

I was top of the form at primary school, but I never sat the 11-plus, because I was absent (ill) when those examinations were held.

I believe in grammar schools, but not in compulsion. Let children choose (age 13 would be sensible). If they want to go to a grammar school, let them sit an entrance exam. Conversely, if they are more inclined towards practical subjects, then let them attend a technical college. And, if they subsequently change their mind, then they can always do what I did, and further their education – even if it does serve to startle the odd, dyed-in-the-wool academic!