Grammar Schools and Deprivation

At the Medway Messenger arranged hustings on Tuesday, 26th April, one of the panellists, Professor Tim Luckhurst, defended grammar schools and stated they increase social mobility.  Upon being challenged by a member of the audience,  Tim Luckhurst denied grammar schools take less than their share of more deprived children and repeated his assertion that such schools increase social mobility.

The Department for Education’s research gateway provides access to a variety of publications, one of which is the statistical bulletin The Composition of Schools in England.  This document and its overview are available via this page.  The data relates to 2006/07 but the document is the latest available version.

The document is 178 pages but chapter five, How Representative are Schools of their Local Authorities?, discusses the degree of segregation of pupils in Local Authorities and considers the extent to which deprived pupils are concentrated in particular schools.  One of the chapter’s summary points is an indication that Tim Luckhurst’s assertion is incorrect:

  • The levels of segregation of FSM pupils [FSM is free school meal – this is used as a proxy for deprivation] in secondary schools appeared to be more associated with the proportion of pupils in grammar schools in an LA than any other LA characteristics.

Chapter six, How would the composition of secondary schools’ intakes change if all pupils were admitted to their nearest school?, discusses how representative schools are of deprived pupils in their local area.  Again, one of the chapter’s summary points indicates Tim Luckhurst’s assertion is incorrect:

  • Grammar schools’ Year 7 FSM rates were not representative of their local areas; in comprehensive schools FSM rates were slightly higher than if pupils attended their nearest school.

The parliamentary briefing Grammar school statistics is a more easily digestible read and one of its sources is the above mentioned statistical bulletin.  The graph below (which can be clicked on for a larger image) has been taken from the briefing and the free school meals element of the graph is striking (please note: SEN means special education need).

The briefing’s text accompanying the graph included these statements:

  • While one might expect many types of SEN to limit a pupil’s performance at an entrance exam, the impact of free school meal status (a proxy for poverty/deprivation) is less direct. The rates were 1.9% at grammars, 11.3% at secondary modern schools and 12.8% across all school types.
  • The Department for Children Schools and Families has looked at the intake of grammar schools in comparison to that of their local area. This found that free school meal rates in grammars were not representative of their local areas. They were around one-fifth of the level in their local area in 2007.
  • This study [the statistical bulletin referred to above] also looked at the level of deprivation affecting children in the areas that different types of schools took their pupils from. In grammar schools in 2007 the proportion of pupils from the least deprived quartile was just over 40%, compared to around 25% in their local area. The proportion of their intake from the most deprived quartile was around 8%, compared to just over 20% in their local area.

A final extract from the briefing shows clearly that grammar schools do not take their share of more deprived children:

Research for the Sutton Trust which looked at the ‘social selectivity’ of secondary schools found that grammars were more socially selective than other schools and that they made up 17 of the top 100 most socially selective secondary schools, but 5% of all secondaries. This general finding should be little surprise given the lower attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals at the end of primary school. However, the report also noted that even among the brightest pupils (in the top quarter of performers at the end of primary school) free school meal rates in grammar schools were 2% compared to 5% across all schools. The authors concluded that grammar schools were enrolling ‘…half as many academically able children from disadvantaged backgrounds as they could do’ [my emphasis].

This is the Green Party’s position on grammar schools:

ED140 The grammar school system decides which young people are likely to succeed academically when they are only 11 years old with a single test which many consider to be a poor indicator of ability and skills. For those who fail this can take opportunities away from them and cause them to lose confidence in their abilities at an age when they are only just beginning to explore learning. The system can also cause social divisions. Evidence shows that the overall standard of achievement is higher where people are educated in mixed ability environments.

ED141 For these reasons the Green Party will allow no new grammar schools and gradually integrate grammar and secondary modern schools into the comprehensive system.

ED142 We will encourage mixed ability learning in all schools as far as possible.

David M. Davison


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