Number of pupils in grammar schools at highest level in two decades, official figures suggest

Robert Mendick
students sitting exams - PA

Grammar schools are educating the highest number of students in at least two decades, an analysis of official figures suggests.

The latest study shows that number of grammar school pupils, aged 11 to 15, has risen by seven per cent in seven years to almost 120,000 in the school year ending in 2017.

The analysis shows there were 110,600 grammar school pupils, aged 11 to 15, in 2010 and that increased to 118,200 by 2017. The figures do not include burgeoning sixth-form numbers.

The rise in the total roll of 7,600 students is equivalent to building 11 averaged-sized grammar schools.

Supporters of selective education said the increase showed the need for Theresa may to revive her commitment to introduce new legislation to permit the building of new grammar schools across the country. Mrs May abandoned her pledge after the disastrous election that saw her majority wiped out.

The party’s manifesto had committed to ending the ban on new selective schools but was omitted from the Queen’s Speech in June.

The National Grammar Schools Association said it believed the latest figures showed the highest numbers attending grammars since at least 1998 when Tony Blair passed a law that prevented new grammar schools being created in England.

But numbers have risen steadily with existing grammar schools simply increasing form entry to cater for growing demand from parents.

Theresa May launching the Conservative manifesto in May Credit:  Dan Kitwood

Philip Bosworth, the association’s treasurer, said: “These figures will almost certainly be record numbers for at least years because right across the country grammar schools are over-subscribed. Parents are exercising their choice for their children to sit the 11-plus. 

“This proves that new grammar schools are needed and especially in the 75 per cent of the country where there are currently no grammar schools.”

There are presently 163 grammar schools in England - compared to about 3,000 state secondaries - whose pupil numbers were studied for the analysis conducted by the BBC. The study found that the growth in grammar school numbers had outpaced the growth in 11 to 15 year olds in most local authorities.

The BBC analysis uses data from the schools census published on the Department for Education website. It looked at the change in the number of pupils aged 11-15 in nearly all grammar schools in England between 2009-10 academic year and the 2016-17 academic year. Three grammar schools were excluded from the study because the intake age had changed in the intervening period.

Some grammar school have almost doubled their intake in recent years.

Alcester Grammar School in Warwickshire for example has seen pupil numbers rise from 450 to 750 students. Its Principal, Clive Sentence, told the BBC that the increase had allowed the school to “achieve major economies of scale”.

One parent Ruth Cornish explained that she was delighted that in Gloucestershire, where she lives, every grammar school has expanded the number of places since 2010. “I think it’s a consumer society - parental demand is there and children want to go,” Ms Cornish told the BBC.

Opponents of selective education complain that by increasing grammar school places, the quality of education in non-selective secondary schools is adversely affected. 

Jon Andrews, of the Education Policy Institute, said: “Our research shows that as you increase the number of grammar school places in an area, the penalties on those who miss out on getting into grammar school increase.”