How grammar schools excluded me as a disabled child
Our anonymous writer tells us how he was barred from grammar schools in the eighties due to disability.
As a young child starting infant school I was often absent from school due to various illnesses, and the fact I was born with disabilities didn’t help the situation. Due to my unavoidable absences my infant school teachers saw me as behind the rest of the class and basically an obstruction to other pupils’ learning. As I was seen as a “struggling student” I was not given extra help but instead left in a corner to play with Lego as others were learning. I was lucky as I was reading and writing ahead of my peers, only all my learning happened when absent from school from my mother and grandparents.
Eventually time passed and my peers and I were due to move up to junior school. This was when my mother was informed I would not be with my peers but placed in a “special school” to help me catch up with children my age. I was then sent to a different school which I had to travel to via minibus everyday due to the distance. The staff at this school were obviously more aware of pupils’ abilities as I came top of the class throughout my junior school years, even with continued absences. When I was in my final year the headmaster attempted to get permission for me to sit the 11 plus exam – a special school pupil apparently had no need as they wouldn’t pass or qualify for local grammar schools. My headmaster gave me his own version of the test and then sent the results and a personal statement of my abilities to my local grammar school and Manchester grammar school, explaining that although I was disabled I could manage all the work without any problems. Both grammar schools replied to my mother and my school explaining that, although academically I could easily be accepted, they could not take students who couldn’t participate fully in their curriculum, which included an extensive sporting requirement. I accept this may not be the case in all grammar schools but in Manchester and Altrincham in the mid eighties this was their excuse.
In 1986 I started at my local high school where I found in the first year I was bullied extensively – and not just by other students. The work I was given consisted of workbooks and papers I had already completed at my junior school, as since I was ahead of some of the other pupils, teachers had given me the work so I had something to do, never expecting the same work to be handed out at secondary school or that both grammar schools would refuse me. As anyone can imagine, along with the bullying, being bored in almost every class resulted in me not wanting to be at the school on most days. Although my absences were less now they were still more often than most and a lot of teachers decided I was lying about my disabilities and other illnesses to get out of attending school, so if I was being accused of truancy for the first two years I felt I may as well play truant. I would leave my house to go to school most days and end up going all over the country finding and visiting libraries, art galleries and museums – probably giving myself a better and more intense education anyway.
I left school in the early nineties with two GCSE grades F and G – not a great start to life – so I worked for a year, then attended a general vocational course at my local college, going on to study English literature and ESOL/TEFL as it was known then, becoming a qualified adult literacy support teacher and a qualified ESOL teacher.
Segregated education on the grounds of physical or perceived academic ability is not only a disgrace in this day and age but can also ruin people’s lives. If I had been accepted at a grammar school, given something to learn and not repeat and not been discriminated against due to my disabilities, my life may have turned out very differently.