What a thrill we all get from the Olympics. It’s about pride in our country; admiration for our sportsmen like Adam Peaty and his world-record beating gold medal or Jazz Carlin, who was educated at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, and hersilvermedal inthe women's 400 metre freestyle;it’s about seeing people doing things which we know that we could never have come anywhere close to achieving. Over the Summer I am very much enjoying trying out my new bicycle in the lanes over to Atworth to buy the paper in the morning. I get off at the up-hilly bits, but enjoy the wind in my hair on the way back down. So I am full of admiration for those Olympians slogging up massive hills on their bikes, running, jumping, rowing, swimming. What super-human efforts they put into it. And why do they do it? To win, of course.
Admiration for people who compete and win or simply do things which we could not possibly contemplate doing, andsupport for excellence, extends throughout life. Are we not all huge admirers and supporters of the great writers, engineers, business people, scientists and so many others? We admire them, but would not necessarily want to be them.Something similar applies to all sorts of trades and professions. I am hopelessly impractical, having to focus pretty hard just to change a lightbulb, and have great admiration for people who can do useful things withtheir hands. My friend, ChrisWannell from Royal Wootton Bassett and Ioften joke that he is good at mending things (he can turn his hand to almost anything), but I am good at making speeches. Each to their own…
Why, then, do we immediately tend to resent people who are academically more able than we are? Not everyone is good at essays, advanced mathematics, Latin and history. Surely it is only right that we should encourage them, give them every possible help and assistance, allow them to rise to the top of their academic careers without any resentment or envy. Just as we admire the Olympic athletes, praise those who can do all sorts of things that we ourselves cannot or would not want todo; is it not right that we should admire and praise and help those who are more academically able or ambitious than we are?
People are happy to give out athletes all sorts of special – elitist – training. But we cavil at special – elitist - academic training. Why should that be the case?
That is why I have always beena fan of grammar schools. My own school, Glasgow High School was academically excellent; but it was pretty lacking in practical skills, which is one reason for my own practical incompetence. I and people like me were ‘good at our books’. The High School was socially inclusive – kids from all over Glasgow and from every background went there if they were of an academic frame of mind. The Socialists tried to close it down in the sixties; it became a private school and so now is academically excellent but also socially exclusive. Well done, Socialists, you have deprived some of the poorest people in Glasgow of some of the best education they could get – and entirely free of charge.Selection should be about merit, not ability to pay.
The best in education should be enabling ALL to achieve their potential- in music, arts, academia, technical apprenticeships. Working out who is good at what (selection) is a very necessary part of it.So I will be supporting Theresa May’s plan to allow grammar schools in those areas where it is appropriate. (We have some in Salisbury, but I cannot really see any need inNorth Wiltshire where our existing schools are so excellent.) Let us help and encourage excellence in academics, just as we do in sport or inpractical capabilities.