Headlines: September 2nd, 2004

Both sides in the argument over grammar schools are overstating their case according to researchers who say that on average there is little difference in achievement between pupils in local education authorities that still have selection and similar pupils in comparable non-selective LEAs.The findings are published today in a report from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation designed to assess what impact selective schools have on educational performance and whether they offer a real opportunity for bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The researchers – Adele Atkinson and Professor Paul Gregg used data from the Pupil Level Annual School Census to track test and exam results for students aged from 11 to 16 to look at whether LEAs that still have grammar schools achieve better GCSE results for their pupils and at which children benefit from academic selection.

Their study reveals a huge gulf between the population mix of pupils as a whole and the mix in LEAs with grammar schools. The 19 English authorities with substantive selection each typically has a quarter of pupils at grammar schools. The study found that just 6 per cent of all pupils eligible for free school meals attend grammar schools while 26 per cent of all other children within the LEA gain a grammar school place. Of pupils in non-grammar schools in these areas, 12 per cent are entitled to free school meals. The figure in the grammar schools is 2 per cent.

The researchers say their findings show that the disadvantage of poor children applies even to those of the highest ability. Of those in the top three Key Stage Two groups, just under a third of those eligible for free school meals go to grammar schools compared with six out of ten of better-off children. They find that grammar school pupils are doing well compared with peers with the same Key Stage 2 results in comparable non-selective areas, while those not getting into grammar schools in selective LEAs are performing slightly worse.

The research also investigates whether the result is driven by the fact that children with special needs or from poorer backgrounds are concentrated in non-grammar schools, and it finds that large numbers of poor children in a school reduce overall attainment and that selection leads to far fewer poor children in grammar schools and far more in non-grammar schools than in comprehensive areas. The authors say this polarisation drives under-attainment in non-grammar schools. Finally, the study looks at the effects of selection on children on free school meals and says the small minority of poor pupils who make it into grammar schools do exceptionally well.