Selection leads to segregation

Grammar schools and selective education increases social inequality rather than reducing it. Evidence from the PISA tests overseen by the OECD internationally shows that “school systems that segregate students according to their performance tend to be those systems where students are also segregated by socio-economic status''. 1

  • Poorer children are a sixth as likely as others to get into a grammar school according to research from the Sutton Trust: less than three per cent of all pupils at grammar schools in England are entitled to free school meals (FSM), against an average of 18 per cent in other schools in areas with a selective system. 2
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that “amongst high achievers, those who are eligible for free school meals or who live in poorer neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to go to a grammar school.” 3
  • Pupils are less likely to attend a grammar school if they attend primary schools with a high proportion of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Pupils attending a primary school with a large number of high-achieving pupils are also less likely to go to a grammar school, perhaps because they under-estimate their own ability.4   
  • A selective system benefits the better off. Nationally, over four times as many children are admitted to grammar schools from outside the state sector - largely fee-paying preparatory schools which account for six per cent of pupils aged 10 - than children entitled to FSM. 5 This is because private preparatory schools are expert in preparing children for entrance exams.
  • Local campaigners in Buckinghamshire found that, although over £1 million had been spent on developing an eleven plus test that would minimise the impact of additional coaching, the new test made no difference to the large gap between the pass rates of pupils from poor and wealthy areas, with the worst results seen among FSM pupils. 6
  • An evaluation of available data by journalist Chris Cook concluded that: “Poor children are less likely to score very highly at GCSE in grammar areas than the rest” and that, “the net effect of grammar schools is to disadvantage poor children and help the rich.” 7
  • Recent research by the think tank the Education Policy Institute found that the gap between the proportion of children on free school meals attaining five A* to C grade GCSEs including English and maths, and all other children, was actually wider in selective areas (34.1 per cent) than in non-selective areas (27.8 per cent). 8
  • In Kent, where there is a selective system, grammar schools take far fewer pupils who are in care: 0.1% of pupils in grammar schools were in care in 2015 compared to 0.9% in secondary moderns. 9
  • Children with special educational needs and disabilities particularly lose out in a selective education system – for more information read here.

1 OECD (2014), PISA 2012 Results in Focus: What 15-year-olds know and what they can do with what they know, p. 12.

2 The Sutton Trust (2013),  Poor Grammar: Entry into Grammar Schools for disadvantaged pupils in England, p. 3

3 Institue for Fiscal Studies (2013), Entry into Grammar Schools in England, p. 24

4 The Sutton Trust, Poor Grammar, p. 5

5 The Sutton Trust, Poor Grammar, p. 3

6 John Dickens (27 November 2015) ‘Questions over £1m ‘tutor-proof’ 11-plus tests Schools’, Schools Week.

7 Chris Cook (28 January 2013), ‘Grammar school myths’,

8 Freddie Whittaker (23 September 2016), ‘EPI grammar schools report: the 7 key findings’, Schools Week.

9 Kent County Council (2016), Grammar schools and social mobility Select Committee, p. 10.

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