Latest post of the previous page:Grammar schools don’t add any value. So let’s ditch them
Theresa May’s style, in her own words, circa two years ago: “I actually look at the evidence, take the advice, consider it properly and then come to a decision.”
Good stuff. Especially, you would have thought, for education reform, where – in comparison with other policy areas – there is a significant body of evidence, both in this country and overseas, on what is effective.
The UK has the national pupil database (NPD), which the Department for Education claims is “one of the richest education datasets in the world”. First produced a few decades ago, it now contains anonymised data on more than 20 million people, tracking their test results throughout their formal education alongside their key sociodemographic characteristics such as ethnicity, special educational needs, eligibility for free school meals, age within academic year, and much more.
This week, a team of academics from Durham University published research they had conducted using the NPD to demonstrate that the comparatively impressive GCSE results of grammar schools are a result of the pupils they admit, who have higher prior attainment and disproportionately come from more advantaged backgrounds.
Far from being bastions of social mobility, the average grammar school has fewer than 3% of their pupils on free school meals, compared to an average of 14% across the state sector. Once you factor in these differences in their intakes, grammar schools are no more effective than comprehensives. In other words, a typical grammar adds the same value to a child’s educational attainment than a typical comprehensive.
This research really ought to be the final nail in the coffin against grammar schools, championed so vigorously by the prime minister until she lost her majority last summer. Sentimental about their school history, advocates for the expansion of grammars are not really influenced by the evidence, but by their own personal experience and perceptions.
Grammar schools are, truthfully, outdated and unambitious for our children and our country
We already know that, in general, the poorest children in selective education areas do worse in their GCSE results than those in non-selective areas. We know now, thanks to this latest research, that those children who do go to a grammar school on average do no better than if they were at a comprehensive school.
So, not only do grammar schools harm social mobility in aggregate, they also do not boost the social mobility of participating children above and beyond what would have happened if they were attending a comprehensive school. This, then, is conclusive: grammar schools do not help the life chances of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In fact, they are harmful to a majority of them.
If the prime minister is after education reforms that are effective, she should look to the countless studies conducted and evaluated by the Education Endowment Foundation, a “what works centre” established by her predecessor in 2011. High-quality pre-school education and one-to-one tuition are, admittedly, expensive but boost the educational progress of children by several months, as do cheaper interventions such as phonics, peer tutoring, and social and emotional learning.
Current government policy is to enable existing grammar schools to expand. But, if she really examined the evidence, then the prime minister would be looking to phase them out altogether.