Grammar schools ‘endanger social cohesion’ without improving results, researchers argue
Grammar schools take fewer “chronically poor” children than surrounding non-selective schools, according to new research.
Selective schools in England have a small proportion of pupils who are eligible for free school meals (FSM): 5.5 per cent of grammar school pupils have been eligible for FSM in any of the past six years, compared to 25.6 per cent in non-selective schools, the Durham University paper highlights.
But their students receiving FSM have also been eligible for fewer years – and are therefore more likely to do better regardless of the school they attend, the paper stated.
The researchers found that, by Key Stage 4, FSM pupils had been eligible for just over five years in grammar schools, compared with nearly seven in non-grammar schools.
The research concludes that grammar schools are “no better or worse” than other schools in England once their privileged intake has been taken into account – and they “endanger social cohesion for there’s no clear improvement in overall results”.
The paper, from Stephen Gorard and Nadia Siddiqui, calls for existing grammar schools in England and Northern Ireland to be phased out altogether, instead of selection being expanded.
The damning research comes after the consultation on the government’s plans to increase the number of pupils attending grammar schools closed last month.
The government’s White Paper, Schools That Work For Everyone, suggested that FSM quotas could be used to increase access to grammar schools for disadvantaged children.
But the Durham University research found that non-selective schools are not only dealing with significantly more FSM pupils, but they also disproportionately deal with the “more chronically poor” in selective areas.
This has significant consequences as, on average, key stage 4 attainment declines with every year of FSM-eligibility, the report found.
It concluded that this new variable – the number of years each pupil has been eligible for FSM by KS4 – explains part of the difference between grammar schools results and those of other schools.
“On this basis, grammar schools appear to be no more or less effective than other schools, once their clear difference in intake has been taken into account. And this is true both for FSM-eligible and non FSM-eligible pupils,” the report said.
Researchers also found that that those attending grammar schools, on average, live in less deprived areas, are older in their year group, and have lived in poverty for substantially less time.
They are also less likely to be classed as White UK or Black in ethnic origin, less likely to have English as an additional language, and much less likely to report any special educational need.
The new research, which is based on the National Pupil Database for England – specifically the 2015 Key Stage 4 cohort – concludes: “The key point is that those who go to grammar schools differ from the rest of the schools in England by far more than their talent as tested by the 11+.
“Therefore, grammar schools cannot be said to be obtaining better results with equivalent pupils even once that prior ability and attainment, as demonstrated in the 11+ test, is taken into account.”