Do Grammar Schools Work? All The Evidence In One Place

07/09/2016 12:10 | Updated 07 September 2016
Leon Neal via Getty Images

Yesterday a leaked document put grammar schools firmly on the agenda. It looks like the government is seriously considering bringing them back. A good idea? It’s certainly a controversial one.

Tories like Dominic Raab love the idea of grammar schools - which seem to them be the meritocratic way to social mobility. Cabinet used to be stuffed with ex-grammar schoolers - May is the 6th such prime minister since the the 1960s. (Not true for May’s new cabinet though - almost half of whom went to non-selective state schools). To others - much of Labour and a big cohort of Tories - they are a big block to it.

At the start of the 1960s, a quarter of pupils were educated in grammars. Now just 5% are. The big decline came under Labour in the mid 1960s (at the time education secretary Anthony Crosland vowed to “destroy every fucking grammar school in England”). But now they may be back. 

But who is right? Are they actually good for social mobility? The debate will run and run. Here is some of the evidence:

Kids do better if they go to grammar schools

The GCSE grades boost kids get by going to a grammar school is worth four grades at GCSE, according to a 2006 Bristol University study.

..although poorer kids get less of a boost

Those entitled to free school meals get a boost of “one-eighth of a GCSE grade” according to researchers at the Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring.

...and everyone else in the area does worse.

Those who don’t get in do one grade worse at GCSE. This could be because grammars snap up the best teachers, or it could be that removing a school’s brightest kids causes standards to go down in another way.

Poorer children are less likely to go to grammar schools

3% of those entering grammar schools are entitled to free school meals. For non-grammar schools in the area, it’s 18%.

...that’s including the brightest

Of those dubbed “high achievers” by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, those eligible for free school meals are “significantly less likely to go to a grammar school”. 40% of kids with good grades on free school meals get into grammar schools, compared to 67% of kids with good grades who are not.

...because exams are weighted against them

At age 11 poor children are already less likely to pass grammar school entrance tests, according to the Education Policy Institute.

...and rich parents game the system.

13% of grammar school pupils are transfers from private schools. New grammar schools correlate with declines in applications to local private ones. And many parents pay for tutoring to help their kids get into the local grammar.

Is that that then? 

Not quite. Some argue that grammars can be made more meritocratic. At the moment, for example, many are based in posh Kent, Lincolnshire and Buckinghamshire - which skews their intake. Could May put some in deprived areas?

Another thought is to introduce quotas for those on free-school meals -  Toby Young, a free-schools advocate, has suggested this could be as large as 75%. Another (put forward on a BBC radio programme this morning) is to use cash from the pupil premium to ensure poorer kids get places.


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