Poorer pupils less likely to get into grammars than richer classmates

Sally Weale Education correspondent
Children from the most deprived families in grammar school areas have only a 6% chance of attending such a school. Photograph: David Davies/PA

High-achieving children from disadvantaged backgrounds who perform well at primary school have less chance of getting into a grammar school than their more affluent classmates who perform less well, according to new research.

The study, by a team from Bristol University, Warwick University and University College London, says access to grammar schools is “highly skewed” by a child’s socio-economic background.

While children from the most deprived families in grammar school areas stand only a 6% chance of attending a selective school, the report finds that the most affluent 10% of children have a 50% or better chance of getting into a grammar. For the 1% most affluent, it goes up to 80%.

Children from families classified as Jams – “just about managing” – have a 12% chance of attending a grammar school.

“These families have featured so prominently in Theresa May’s rhetoric since she became prime minister, and yet so few make it into grammar schools,” the report observes.

Even when 11-year-olds have the same level of academic attainment, the most deprived pupil has a 25% chance of attending a grammar compared with a 70% chance for the least deprived pupil.

The report is part of a growing body of research on the impact of academic selection on children’s education and social mobility as the government prepares to lift the ban on new grammar schools and extend selection.

The research is based on analysis of socio-economic status, using not just free school meal eligibility but also highly detailed local neighbourhood measures based on the pupil’s postcode.

“Our analysis shows clearly that it is mostly the very affluent that make it into grammar schools – and that there is a dramatic difference in access to selective schools depending on the pupil’s background,” says the report.

“Of course, the argument will be that the ‘new grammars’ will be different and (somehow) give greater access to children from more deprived backgrounds.

“Yet there are no details of the mechanisms that could be put in place to prevent them having the same access issues as the existing schools. And, as the evidence here suggests, affluent parents seem to be very good at getting their kids in to grammars, irrespective of their primary school performance.”

The study will be published as a working paper – called Assessing the role of grammar schools in promoting social mobility – by the UCL Institute of Education in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, a study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has compared the results of pupils attending partially selective schools with comparable pupils at similar non-selective schools and found there is no overall academic benefit to going selective.

When the government outlined its plans for expanding academic selection, it welcomed proposals for new partially selective schools, which are expected to open as part of its free schools programme.

Analysis based on data from the 38 partially selective schools in England that select more than 10% of pupils but are not wholly selective grammar schools found that pupils with high prior attainment make less progress in maths at partially selective schools than their peers at non-selective schools.

Pupils with low prior attainment were significantly less likely to achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, than their peers at non-selective schools, the analysis found.

NFER criticised over-complex admissions policies and over-subscription criteria which may act as an additional barrier to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Its chief executive, Carole Willis, said: “Schools are already coping with considerable change in an education landscape that is continuing to evolve.

“This analysis suggests partial selection is not an effective way of increasing the number of good school places.”

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