Grammar Schools Social Mobility


By One Education
on 18 September, 2016

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Will proposed new Grammars really improve social mobility?

Following on from our article last week, we continue to examine the grammar school debate.

Breaking the political consensus entrenched since David Cameron described talk of the return of grammar schools as ‘outdated mantra’ in 2007, Theresa May launched her plans to expand the grammar school system last Friday, using the rationale of improving social mobility through a great meritocracy.

‘I want to relax the restrictions that stop selective schools from expanding, that deny parents the right to have a new selective school opened where they want one, and that stop existing non-selective schools becoming selective in the right circumstances and where there is demand,’ May announced.

The P.M. continued, stating that ‘grammar schools are hugely popular with parents.’ The reality at present being a postcode dash by parents who want their children to attend a grammar school; afforded only by those with a degree of affluence.

To combat this, May said that she would require new or expanding grammars to take a proportion of pupils from lower-income households to ensure that selective education is not reserved for those with the means to move into a catchment area, or pay for tuition to pass the entry test. But the exact proportion size has yet to be discerned; and questions such as considering lower thresholds for children from disadvantaged backgrounds have been posed yet unanswered.

Indeed, grammar schools may be considered ‘good for the pupils that attend them.’ However, look to the post-war era and such benefits for social mobility could be considered negated by the consequences for the majority of pupils who attended secondary moderns. This argument is supported not in the least by the Institute for Education which has shown a considerably bigger gap between the wages of the highest and lowest paid individuals born in areas with a selective education system than in comprehensive areas.

Similarly, Government studies on the explosion of grammars in the 1950s and 60s evidenced that they did not support the social mobility of disadvantaged children.

Indeed, one such government report in the mid-1950s tracked the careers of 9000 grammar school children and found only 23 from the unskilled working class who had achieved 2 A levels.  (Source: Adrian Elliott, 2007, State Schools Since the 1950s: the Good News).  

The above could be succinctly summed up, perhaps, by Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw, who accused Theresa May of attempting to ‘put the clock back’ in a way which would halt momentum towards better results in the state system. Echoing this, the previous Conservative Education secretary Nicky Morgan commented that a selective system would be ‘at best a distraction from crucial reforms to raise standards and narrow the attainment gap and at worst risk actively undermining six years of progressive education reform.’

Better, surely, to focus our efforts on in improving social mobility through supporting disadvantaged children from the beginning of their school career through effective use of the Pupil Premium Grant. One Education provides a bespoke PPG review service. Our experienced educational professionals work with schools using a robust proven framework to review current provision and plan effectively for the future, based on the needs of your pupils and context.

Contact the One Education School Improvement Team if you would like more information on how we can support you to maximise the impact of your Pupil Premium Grant. 

We must also consider our education system’s lofty expectation of 16-year olds to choose the subjects they wish to specialise in post-GCSE. In June 2015, it was reported that the UK needs to double the current number of annual engineering graduates and apprentices in the next 5 years to meet demand. However, if trends follow, 93% of teenagers in England and Wales will choose A-Levels that will not enable them to study engineering at university. This highlights the need for robust careers advice to support all pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Read the Prime Minister's speech: Britain, the great meritocracy.

Authored by Fay Gingell.

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