Grammar schools expansion & selection – experts give their reaction to the government’s announcements

The prime minister Theresa May has set out plans for all schools in England to be given the right to apply to select pupils by ability, under plans also allowing grammar schools to expand. Under the proposal, schools will become selective and new and expanding grammars will take quotas of poor pupils or help run other schools. 

Here academic experts give their reaction to the announcements.

Comment from Professor Becky Francis, Director, UCL Institute of Education:

“There is very clear evidence that selection increases social segregation in education. It is also problematic to encourage a view of attainment at 11 as expressing fixed, innate ability. However, it is right that the Government focuses attention on the continuing gap for attainment according to social background, and the ways in which school admissions practices can lead to inequalities in access to quality schooling. What is needed is a renewed effort to support struggling schools to improve, and to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are well supported within schools, to ensure that all families have equal access to high quality education, irrespective of their wealth.”

Comment from Dr Lindsey Macmillan, UCL Institute of Education:

“The Government is focusing this debate on improving social mobility. But to improve social mobility their needs to be greater equality of opportunities for kids from all backgrounds – what we know from the previous expansion of grammars and the intake of existing grammars are that poor children are disproportionally discriminated against in terms of access. In current grammar areas, 3% of grammar school pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared to 13% in non-grammar schools. Even when focusing on similarly high-performing children at primary school, just 40% of high-achieving children who are eligible for free school meals attend grammar schools compared to 2/3 of other high-achieving children.”

“May talks about already having selection in our system – selection by house prices, which she says is unfair. The evidence that compares the two systems, selection by ability (grammar) and selection by house prices (comprehensive), is very clear on this. Selection by ability increases educational and earnings inequality far more than selection by house prices. While top earners from grammar areas earn 10% more than those from similar comprehensive areas, low earners from grammar areas earn 35% less than low earners from similar comprehensive areas.”

Comment from Professor Sandra McNally, Director Education and Skills, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, who has researched grammar schools and selection:

“It’s hard to reconcile the expansion of grammar schools with a commitment to social mobility. Tests at age 11 are strongly associated with family income. This change will probably increase social segregation. It might also reduce average educational attainment because of spillovers affecting students in non-grammar schools.”

Comment from Simon Burgess,  Professor of Economics, University of Bristol:

“The evidence shows that grammar schools emphatically do not raise social mobility; quite the opposite. And if say 25% of kids go to grammar schools, large numbers of middle class kids will be finding themselves in secondary moderns.”

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