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23 September 2016

A damning report on grammar schools pits Theresa May against the experts

Grammar schools are not just unrepresentative, they do nothing to change educational standards. 

By Julia Rampen

Theresa May’s plans to introduce grammar schools will have no difference on national attainment – and may squeeze out places for the poorest children. 

That’s the findings of the Education Policy Institute, after an intensive study of grammar school demographics, and achievement levels. 

It concluded: “This result suggests that additional grammar schools are not a good intervention for raising average standards across a schools system.”

Grammar schools are unrepresentative of the local community, the report found. Just 2.5 per cent of grammar school pupils on free school meals, compared to an average of 13.2 per cent in state-funded high schools as a whole. 

Pupils from mixed white, Indian and Chinese backgrounds are over-represented, while white British and Black Caribbean backgrounds are under-represented. 

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Damningly for May, the report also pulled apart the idea of quotas for families who are, in her words, “just managing”. It said: 

A quota system could also present a political challenge, as well as a practical challenge in terms of defining a new group of “just about managing” households. The Government would also need to consider steps to ensure that children from lower income working households did not simply displace children from the poorest non-working households.

While the report did not find grammar schools on their own had a negative effect on national attainment, this seems to be due to their relatively small number. 

In the most selective areas, by contrast, the report found pupils who did not go to grammar schools had an average of 0.6 grades lower at GCSE subjects, and the effect was magnified for children on free school meals. 

Although grammar school pupils did do better than average, the report said this was mainly down to the fact they had been picked for their academic aptitude. Similarly high-attaining pupils in comprehensive schools performed just as well. 

Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called May’s education policies divisive: “Her plans for new grammar schools have been universally panned by experts.” This latest report suggests she is right.