Former Deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott grew up in Upton, Chester, from the age of 10 but went to Grange Secondary Modern School, Ellesmere Port, after failing the 11-plus exam that, had he passed, would have sent him to a more prestigious grammar school in his home city.
Here the Labour veteran explains why being labelled 'second best at such a young age still burns inside' and why he doesn't want other children to go through that experience as Prime Minister Theresa May plans for a new wave of grammars.
Love can be cruel. For an 11-year-old, break-ups can be devastating. We’d been forcibly separated. Not because we’d grown apart or even because there was someone else.
No. We parted because I wasn’t good enough to pass a test.
She’d managed to pass the 11-plus. I did not. I sent her a love letter pledging my undying love. She sent it back correcting my spelling and grammar mistakes.
It didn’t stop there. My dad Bert promised me and my brother Ray a bicycle if we got to a grammar school. Ray got the bike. I got a 20-mile bus trip to my secondary modern.
You might say so what? It didn’t stop me going on to become an MP and Deputy Prime Minister.
But I did both in spite of failing the 11-plus, not because of it.
Tony Blair promised our priorities were education, education, education. So as well as pushing to improve teaching standards, boost attainment and cut class sizes, we made the decision to ban new grammar schools.
Instead we introduced academies to replace failing schools. We brought in the brightest young teachers to work in our most challenged schools through Teach First, cut class sizes, introduced testing and boosted the curriculum.
And our London Challenge initiative to provide extra support for failing inner-city schools turned the capital from below average to one of the best-performing areas in the country.
So when I hear Theresa May wants to take us back to the day of telling 11-year-olds they’re failures, I get bloody angry.
Especially when her government has done more to dishearten teachers and demolish Labour’s educational successes. After record GCSE improvements under Labour, we’re now in decline.
All because idealogues like Michael Gove pushed their own personal agendas, using our schools and kids like a social experiment.
Gove cut Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme that was creating or refurbishing schools, reduced funding and diverted some of the money to his pet Free Schools. Schools set up in areas of excess free places. Now we know why. They’ll probably become grammars.
On top of that, the Tories cut the EMAs that encouraged young people to stay in post-16 learning, and trebled university tuition fees.
Gove famously said during the Brexit campaign that people had had enough of experts. It’s clear when it came to education, he was a dunce.
But May’s decision to bring back grammar schools makes Gove look like Einstein.
Not only does her own Education Secretary Justine Greening privately think it’s a bad idea. But experts – people we SHOULD listen to – say they entrench social division.
The Sutton Trust claims just 3% of pupils who go to the 163 grammar schools in England are on free school meals. That’s six times less than pupils who go to non-selective schools in the same area.
And 13% of grammar pupils actually came from private schools. They are five times more likely to be privately educated than come from a disadvantaged background. Grammars actually widen the gap in attainment between rich and poor pupils.
In London, where they don’t have grammar schools, the average pass rate of five GCSEs for kids on free school meals is 45%. In Kent, where they do, it’s just 27%.
No wonder the Chief Inspector of Schools Sir Michael Wilshaw warns: “We will fail as a nation if only the top 15 to 20% of children achieve well in school.”
Our children deserve encouragement as they grow, not told they’re a failure at 11. Some of us are late bloomers. I ended up studying at sea, and getting an economics degree from Hull University.
I wanted to prove that those who judged me at 11 were wrong.
The anger I felt when I was told I was second best at such a young age still burns inside. I don’t want other kids to go through that.
There is no evidence it reduces inequality. In fact it increases it. The grammar school system is social and educational apartheid.
Before May, the only other party backing the return of grammar schools was UKIP. The Nasty Party is well and truly back.