Here's two twelve year olds, Nathan and Ruby. Nathan is a very bright boy with a sharp mind and a quick reply to any comment I might have. He can argue confidently with adults and frequently does. Ruby is an average girl; pleasant, not particularly intelligent or talented in any respect.
Ruby will do far better in life than Nathan. I can say that with sadness but with certainty. Ruby comes from a nice, supportive, quite well off family who can afford to send her to a boarding school. She is taught in small classes along with other well behaved pupils of similar ability. She associates and makes friends with other girls who will also go to good universities. If she struggles, she will be given extra help and her father will pay for a tutor occasionally during the school holidays. Ruby has every possible chance to make a great start in life.
Nathan on the other hand; lives in the Cherry Tree Estate. A run down, crime ridden hell hole populated with the workshy and the criminal. Drugs, gangs and asbos are rife. He can only attend the local school, which is little more than a youth club, staffed by an endless rota of disinterested supply teachers and 'led' by a Head who is desperately seeking a post elsewhere. There is no discipline and no real chance to learn anything. Most lessons are little short of anarchy. Every desk and exercise book is covered in obscene graffiti. All around him Nathan sees examples of anti social behaviour without consequence. He cannot attract the teacher's attention because they are too busy trying and failing to prevent the lesson sliding into chaos. Nathan's friends are starting to experiment with drugs and get involved in a depressing spiral of vandalism, violence and theft. He is following them down this road, as he can see no alternative path.
Nathan never really had a chance from the day he was born. I taught so many kids like him that they blur together in my mind.
There are hundreds of thousands of Rubys and Nathans in the UK marching towards their pre ordained futures. It is massively unjust and terribly sad.
I've always said in my blog and in my book that it's no use moaning about something unless you propose a solution. Mine as I've said many times is 'selection by ability'. I would dearly like to put children like Nathan in schools where they would be taught by the best teachers who don't spend their days trying to do crowd control. I'd like to see kids like Nathan experience a work ethos and associate with kids who don't sniff glue. I'd like to show him that there is life outside the Cherry Tree Estate. In short, I'd like to give him the same chances as Ruby has. It will not happen until we are brave enough to risk being called 'elitist' or 'old fashioned' and admit that the Comprehensive Education system simply does not work. Until that moment we are simply fooling ourselves and betraying poor Nathan.