My daughter attends a mixed gender grammar school in Buckinghamshire.
I am not a fan of grammar schools; many children get into these schools because of an their parents ability to pay for tutors rather than by their own ability. Theses schools suck the quality out of their neighbouring secondary schools and leave parents with a chronic fear of the alternatives.
But are grammars really better?
From my experience grammar schools may achieve the exam results required but the standard of teaching is really not any better. By siphoning off the best pupils they are bound to have better exam results.
But I have issue with the curriculum. They've got the 3Rs covered as you would expect but for non-academic relief from the core subjects I am not happy with the bias towards textiles (luckily I have a daughter but even she is bored with this compulsory subject), the lack of ICT/computer science and no opportunity to do woodwork, metal work etc. You may not think non-academic subjects are important but from my perspective I want my child to be a well rounded individual who has some fun and get some appreciation of hands on activities they might one day have to manage.
Secondly, the extra curricular activities are very biased towards the middle classes. I personally cannot afford scuba diving in Egypt and skiing in st moritz so my child misses out.
Thirdly, and most seriously, the school's culture is one of individual assessment. So as not to risk lowering their self esteem, parents are not provided with any benchmark of peer group performance or the national curriculum target, I am merely told that my child is a 6a in Maths (etc). Additionally to save effort individual subject teachers do not write any form of assessment on the report to parents.
It's meaningless to benchmark a child's performance only against themselves, all it does is tell parents that their child is or isn't making progress, it doesn't tell the parent that the child is way behind their peer group. It's liberal thinking out of control.
So think on before you scramble for that grammar school place. Some of the grammar schools are really not worth fighting to get a place into.
For my part I don't intend to make the same mistake with my second child.
addendum: I also forgot to add that the liberal attitude also extends to extra-curricular activities in that to avoid the possibility of 'pushy parents forcing their child to get involved' the school refuses to publish extra-curricular activities! Extraordinary.
I accept that you mean your comments to be read, just about the GS that your daughter attends, but, your question "are grammar schools really better" invites comment and, therefore, please accept my opinion!
It is obvious that you haven't had a great experience, and I'm sorry for that - and maybe, if you had done more research before you applied, you would have made a different decision, maybe you wouldn't - there is plenty of evidence local to me of parents desperately focussing on one particular gs at the expense of another, because it is seen as the "better" one, as it is harder to get into, regardless of whether their child would fit in better at the other gs. This happens all over. You have kind of contradicted yourself by saying that many children get into the gs based on their parents ability to pay for a tutor, rather than ability and then by stating that the gs sucks the quality out of the neighbouring schools! At the risk of sounding very black and white, you can't have it both ways! If kids in your gs are getting in because of tutoring, not real ability, then assumedly the real ability kids are in the neighbouring schools!
There are lots of threads on here from people who support gs and people who are very anti them - and you are right to add a note of caution to anyone considering them - you ned to view them with open and honest (to yourself) eyes, in the same way you would consider any other realistic alternative - will my child genuinely be happy here? Will I be happy for my child to be here? Am I considering it because it is the best fit for them?
In terms of you finding it meaningless to benchmark your child against themselves - with very little effort, you can find the national curriculum targets for the year group your child is in on the internet. You could ask the teachers where they sit in the class - our school releases exam results on the report with a statement that our child achieved x% in the exam, the average for the year was y%...this gives an idea as to whether he is above average, average or below, without excessive detail.
You don't say what year your child is in, but I have to assume that they have started relatively recently - I have worked in a number of secondary schools over the years and would have to say I haven't worked in any that offer Computer Science at that level - maybe A level - but ICT is generally a) integrated into all the lessons in some form or another and b) often focusses on basic programming and business type applications at the beginning. Again, our school is single sex but the boys run Home Economics on rotation - roughly a term each of cookery, DT and graphics, as well as undertaking Art and Music, which are not usually consider core curriculum subjects (like Maths, English, MFL, PE, Humanities etc).
I assume, when you talk about scuba diving in Egypt etc, you are not actually talking about the extra curricular activities - you are talking about school trips - these are by nature limited as staff can only take a maximum number of kids - the majority of children wouldn't go on these (certainly mine wouldn't go on them - we are middle class in the sense that we have worked hard and are educated to post degree level, but we couldn't afford them) but I would bet my bottom dollar that there are other school trips that are more affordable, if not as attractive (for example trips to France staying with a French family or a residential to Hadrian's Wall to investigate the Romans or even a day trip to the Black Country Museum to look at industrial Britain?) I accept that you are using these examples to make a point, however, but the reality is that any "normal" state school offers a range of school trips to suit most budgets (and usually have the caveat allowing for genuine financial hardship support for any that are seen as integral to the curriculum), and genuine extra curricular activities in the form of sports clubs/chess club/robotics etc etc - some of which are run "free" and others that you have to pay a contribution to or full whack - I am sure your child's school does this as well - perhaps, if your daughter is new to the school, she hasn't had the chance to find out for herself, what is on offer? Maybe you as the parent could ask school reception, who she needs to talk to to find this information out? I, for one, am quite happy that my son should make his own decisions about what clubs/societies he gets involved in - the only thing I need to know is if I need to pick him up after school - it was actually quite interesting to find out at parents evening, what he had got himself involved with!
You have stated that you are not happy with the school but make no mention of how your daughter is feeling? Something must have attracted you to the gs when you applied - assumedly your daughter is settled and happy there? I do hope she is and, I am sorry you feel like this about your gs, but would reassure potential parents that they are not all as you have experienced.