[F]ORTY-SIX local people have signed a petition saying “no” to the 11-plus school split and any increase in grammar schools, during just two hours of campaigning in Penrith.
Although the town has a famous grammar school and a successful community college for youngsters who don’t meet its educational criteria, there is still a strong feeling here that more grammar schools around the country would cause increased social division, say the campaigners, from Penrith and Eden Branch Labour Party.
Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans to reverse Labour’s 1998 ban on new grammar schools. The Government has said that this proposal will be part of wider educational reform to maximise the number of good school places.
However, a national petition by Labour argues that the opening of new grammars would unfairly segregate children at the age of 11. “It would mean a privileged education for a few, a second class education for the rest,” said Penrith and Eden branch secretary Caz Walker.
The 46 signatures were gained on the morning of Saturday 29th October by branch members in Penrith town centre. They had not expected so much support, given the popularity of the local grammar school, said Caz. “They will be added to the nationwide Education not Segregation Petition, which has so far had just under 62,000 signatures.”
Two hundred leaflets about the campaign were also handed out, and many people were happy to talk about their own experiences and opinions, said another campaigner, Wendy Walker: “There was obviously great loyalty to the local school system, but many also talked about the way segregation at the age of 11 had adversely affected their futures.
“I could have been one of these people. I failed the 11-plus 60 years ago when I lived in Dorset, mainly because of undiagnosed bad eyesight and poor teaching. I went to a secondary modern which had just six people in its A-level class, and it was down to just a couple of teachers that I got job qualifications. Later it was thanks to the Open University that I got a degree.”
The petition also calls for an education maintenance allowance for 16-18 year-olds from low and middle income groups, and more value to be attached to the work of teachers and teaching assistants. It is still open online.