4 Reasons Grammar Schools are a Bad Idea
On Saturday it was reported that Theresa May is intending to lift the ban on grammar schools. This is concerning because the evidence is clear that grammar schools do not lower educational inequalities - not when they were introduced over 60 years ago, and not today.
Here are four reasons why grammar schools are a bad idea:
1) The evidence demonstrates that grammar schools undermine social mobility. Very few of the poor attend grammar schools, even in areas where there are multiple grammar schools like in Birmingham or Kent. Only 2.6% pupils are on free school meals (FSM) in existing grammar schools, compared to 15% across the UK. Even in the 1960s when 26% of children were from the “unskilled working-class” at grammar schools, a high drop rate meant that they represented just 0.3% of those achieving two A-levels or more. As their intake is primarily from the upper middle class they act as a vehicle for well-off kids to get a better education and top jobs in media, law, banking and politics .
2) The evidence shows that grammar schools do not increase overall educational performance. In Kent –which retains a fully selective secondary education system – the achievement of pupils as a whole is no higher than the national average while educational outcomes are less equitable than elsewhere. Furthermore, outcomes for pupils from backgrounds of social disadvantage in Kent – the group least likely to attend local grammar schools – are markedly worse than the national average for similar pupils. Internationally, evidence from the OECD shows that the best performing education systems are those with ‘comprehensive’ school systems, and those that tier children by school have less equitable outcomes without an overall performance advantage. In other words, grammar schools do not lead to higher academic standards overall, and create greater inequalities in achievement.
3) There is a real worry that just as in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, grammar schools will separate children at age 11 essentially telling many that they are not good enough. Parents need to ask themselves not only how they would feel if their child got in to one of these schools, but also if they did not. Creating winners and losers in the education system so early on in life is likely to strengthen class divides and inequality in outcomes. ALL children deserve the best chance to fulfil their potential.
4) Grammar schools are complicating the system further and a distraction from increasing the quality of comprehensive education. This government must stop harking back to a mythical era in which grammar schools helped lower educational inequality. If they want to help address inequality in educational outcomes they must invest more in our state school sector. Conversely they are currently cutting funding. More generally, Theresa May will fail to address inequality if she supports an educational system that allows only a lucky few to escape low incomes while leaving everyone else behind.
Grammar schools are not fit for purpose in dealing with inequality. We need forward thinking policy instead of one that looks to past projects to fix today’s problems. Most importantly we must not separate educational inequalities to wider economic inequalities – social mobility is higher where income and wealth gaps are narrower.
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