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War Horse author tramples Theresa May's 'deeply stupid' grammar school plans

Published 13/09/2016

Michael Morpurgo revealed he failed his 11-plus exam
Michael Morpurgo revealed he failed his 11-plus exam

Theresa May's plans to create a new generation of grammar schools are "quite deeply stupid" and will create vast numbers of children who "fail, and fail young," according to War Horse author Michael Morpurgo.

Education Secretary Justine Greening has insisted expanding selective schools could help improve pupil attainment, but Mr Morpurgo, who failed his 11-plus exam when he applied to go to grammar school, said the proposals are "perpetuating a myth".

He told the Press Association: "I don't think it's a conspiracy but I think it's quite deeply stupid to think if you educate people in such a way that they are divided when they are young, you aren't going to create two societies.

"Some people are on the fast-track to fulfilment and prosperity and there are other people who get left behind."

The award-winning children's author and former Children's Laureate was sent to an independent school thanks to funding from "kindly aunties", but said his experience of failure at an early age was devastating.

He said: " Failure is the worst thing you can do to a child, it crushes their confidence. I condemned myself because of this failure, you were named and shamed, you knew you had disappointed everyone.

"I was knocked back and went off in the other direction. I did sports and music, not academics, and when I came to exams I had no confidence, and I trace it back to failing the 11-plus so openly.

"I know from being on that side of it, it is not the way to go.

"There are grammar schools that are wonderful but there are also great comprehensives and academies."

Mr Morpurgo said the plans only add to divisions that already exist in society, adding: "We know this from Brexit, we are so divided now, we are so not together.

"Our class system has always favoured areas of great prosperity and you can't blame parents for wanting that for their children, but y ou have to pay attention to the half that don't succeed.

"You will have vast numbers of children who fail, and fail young.

"Other countries do it much more wisely, separating children according to talent when they are older. It is still tough, but it is not the same as at 11.

"In her speech outside Downing Street, Theresa May said she wanted this country to have opportunities for everyone. You don't create opportunities by creating failure."

Mr Morpurgo is famous for his books including War Horse, Private Peaceful, Friend Or Foe and Why The Whales Came, which have all been adapted for the big screen.

The stage adaptation of War Horse, which features life-sized horse puppets, premiered at the National Theatre in 2007 and is still touring the world.

The author will read extracts from the book accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra at a special production at the Royal Albert Hall on October 27, while British designer Rae Smith will draw scenes from the book live on stage.

He said: "I hope people will come because they might have read the book or been to the National Theatre or seen the movie. The music shapes the whole thing together and that is what we are going to be seeing."

Actress Julie Walters branded grammar schools as "hugely divisive and dreadful".

She told BBC Radio 5 Live: "The scourge in my day of failing your 11 plus was huge. It was like putting people on the scrap heap, I think it's (reintroducing grammar schools) a terrible thing to do."

Walters, who went to Holly Lodge Grammar School for Girls in Smethwick, added: "I think Theresa May comes from a good heart, I think she thinks she's giving working class children a chance but it won't be them, these schools will be peopled by middle class people who can afford to have private tutors for their kids to get them in because it's cheaper than sending them to a private school.

"I think that is what will happen. And then people left in comprehensives, they're just going to ruin them. You need a mix of people in schools."

The full interview with Julie Walters will be on 5 Live Afternoon Edition on September 19.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We know that grammar schools provide a good education for their disadvantaged pupils and we want more pupils from lower income backgrounds to benefit from that.

"Our proposals will ensure that any new and existing selective schools will prioritise the admission of disadvantaged pupils and that they support other local pupils in non-selective schools to help drive up educational outcomes. As set out in the consultation document, we are clear that relaxing restrictions on selective education can and should be to the betterment, not at the expense, of other local schools."

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