Category Archives: Education

Grammar Schools: the answer to social mobility or elitism?

As Theresa May, an ex-Grammar School pupil as I am, considers allowing new Grammar Schools in the UK for the first time in 20 years I find myself wondering about the different views on Grammar Schools-do they increase social mobility or are they elitist?

Grammar Schools as we know them were originally set up by the Education Act of 1944 as part of making education over the age of 14 free. The idea was that academic youngsters, regardless of family income, would go to the grammar school & practical youngsters would attend the secondary modern school. The 11+ exam was designed to indicate which stream a youngster was best suited to.

And this is where it all seems to have gone wrong. As a society we have typically valued academic learning above other types of learning. This may be due to the association with higher paid jobs. Somehow we devalued “trades” and talk of “passing” or “failing” the 11+ further embedded the idea that someone who went along the secondary modern route was less able & less valuable than someone who went through the grammar route.

The focus of Tony Blair’s government on getting 50% of the population through University education emphasised the focus on academic learning being more valued than vocational learning. In 2016 we appear to be switching things round with the funding & marketing of vocational learning opportunities such as apprentices. The problem is we’re swinging the pendulum back the other way instead of balancing it. We should be investing in each youngster as an individual with the best type of education for them, whether that be an academic route or a vocational one.

So would the re-introduction of Grammar Schools help to solve this problem? I believe it is possible but only if we make other changes which only we, as individuals in our society, can make:

  • As a society we need to stop talking about “passing” or “failing” the entrance exam & start talking about different routes of learning with equal weighting & value.
  • We need to make sure youngsters from deprived backgrounds, who research shows are less likely to attend a grammar school, have support so they have the same chances as youngsters from more affluent families. I’m a huge believer in mentoring-having someone with connections on your side-and I’d like to see more mentoring schemes such as the ones I’m currently involved with in Cumbria with BEC Business Cluster, Inspira & Phoenix Youth Project

I don’t believe these changes are the responsibility of government, national or local, but ours as individuals and they matter whether Grammar Schools are reintroduced or not.

What do you think? I’d love to know whether you’d like to see Grammar Schools reintroduced or not & what your thoughts are on how we make sure children whose life chances are diminished from the day they’re born because of their family background get the same chances as children from more privileged backgrounds.


Let’s try to STEM the gender gap.

As I was reading my Sunday paper this morning I was transported back to the mid eighties when I was studying for my A-levels. I was sitting in a classroom with about 10 pupils in it & I was the only girl. I had chosen to study double maths & it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might be the only girl making that choice. This is a testament to the way my parents brought me up, to them my gender wasn’t a consideration in the choices I made & it was only when I reached that point that I came across the influence of another way of thinking.

I can even distinctly remember the teacher saying “I wouldn’t be surprised if Dianne decides not to continue as she’s the only girl in the class”  Giving up on the class hadn’t even occurred to me until that point. Don’t get me wrong as a teenage girl sitting in a class full of teenage boys I felt awkward but to me I’d made my choice & I would have persevered. Following those words I gave up maths completely. I’d be offered an “out” and I took it. Now I don’t blame the teacher for that, I made the decision & I’ve never been one for looking back & thinking “what if?” I wonder though if the teacher would have said those words if he’d realised the effect it was going to have?

The reason this memory came to mind was an article in the Sunday Times about an OECD report due out next week. The report shows that the UK isn’t doing very well when it comes to making the most of our available talent in STEM subjects. In measuring the performance of 15 year old girls v boys in science across 67 countries the UK has one of the largest gender gaps. We are in the bottom five of the sample & that really isn’t good. The same OECD report last year showed that gender gaps in maths generally across the world had not improved in the previous 11 years. How sad is that? We’re talking & talking about this & yet we still haven’t found the solution. The report suggests that part of the problem is that girls don’t feel as confident of their abilities when it comes to maths & I find myself wondering where that comes from? Somewhere between the age of 9 and 15 their belief in their own abilities changes. Are we as a society still giving out the same message that teacher gave me in the mid-eighties?

Teenage years are difficult ones at the best of times (for parents as well as teenagers!) & sometimes it can be a fleeting comment or a thoughtless phrase that may give someone that “out” I was given , that may suggest to them that they’re not quite up to it or won’t quite fit in. At a time when people are trying to figure who they are & who they want to be these comments can mean a lot more than they’re meant to. So we need to think about what we’re saying, what messages we are giving.

As Professor Brian Cox said in an interview in the Telegraph last year when asked about women in science:  “There should be 50 per cent. It’s not just a sense of moral obligation about equal opportunities. It’s about the talent pool. It’s about how do you fill this massive gap in skills that we have in the economy.” Now I can’t offer the perfect solution to this problem but I do feel we can all contribute in our own way. Changing this will take effort from all of us, male & female.

So let’s encourage all our children, regardless of gender, to be everything they can & want to be.

I have no special talents I am only passionately curious. Albert Einstein

and my learning journey continues

Those of you who have kept in touch with me for a while will know that I love to learn, it’s like taking your brain to the gym, there are only positives. So why has it taken me over a year to figure out what I want to study after completing my degree?

Well the truth is we have so many choices now when it comes to learning don’t we? There are the traditional courses, the one day skills training options and now of course the MOOCs. There’s also the decision about whether to study further in the discipline you’ve already started or move over into another one. Then there’s which provider, method of study……..I could go on & on. You know what though? When you actually find the right course you just know it’s the one. If you’re umming & ahhing without being able to make a decision that course just isn’t speaking to you. Continue reading

Degrees: is there a right time?

originally posted as LinkedIn article.

Many years ago, more than I’m going to admit, I was all set to complete my A levels and go to study for my degree at University. Then I met my husband, got married and had my wonderful children. Sound familiar?

But in this day and age we can study at any point in our life and last year I graduated with a First Class Degree in Business Management without even visiting a University. I completed a HNC and CMI Level 5 at my local college, Lakes College, then completed a year and a half online with UCLan who then went on to employ me (which was rather nice of them I thought). Continue reading