Grammar Schools


  • There has been a ban on the opening of new grammar schools in England since 1996. However, a selective secondary education system continues to operate in some counties, such as Kent, Lincolnshire and Buckinghamshire. Currently there are 163 state-funded grammar schools educating around 167,000 pupils.
  • The Conservative Government has recently published proposals to expand selective education in England by allowing existing grammar schools to expand their places.
  • Under the proposals, existing grammar schools can apply for funding to either expand onsite or build an “annexe” elsewhere.
  • Applicants must show “ambitious and realistic” plans for increasing access for disadvantaged pupils, defined as those eligible for the pupil premium, but there is not a set target for the increase of disadvantaged children a school must admit.
  • The pro-grammar school lobby argues that selective education allows more academic pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to secure better academic success and helps to close the attainment gap between better-off and less well-off pupils. However, the evidence shows the opposite to be the case.  
  • Pupils who pass the 11+ test and are admitted to grammar schools generally do achieve well but once prior attainment and pupil background is taken into consideration, researchers have found that there is no overall attainment impact of grammar schools, either positive or negative.1
  • Furthermore, the attainment of pupils at grammar schools comes at the expense of the majority of children who do not get a grammar school place. The evidence shows that the attainment of pupils at secondary moderns in areas where a selective system exists is lower than that of their counterparts in comprehensive schools.2 Additionally, the gap between children on FSM (attaining five A*-C GCSEs, including English and Maths) and all other children is actually wider in selective areas than in non-selective areas – at around 34.1 per cent compared with 27.8 per cent.3
  • Selective education systems are also linked with greater inequality in social outcomes later in life.4
  • The main measure of disadvantage is the proportion of children on free school meals (FSM) and grammar schools score poorly on this indicator. Just 2.5 per cent of grammar school pupils are entitled to FSM, compared with an average of 13.2 per cent in all state funded secondary schools.5 The proportion of FSM pupils is even higher - an average of 18% - in neighbouring schools in the areas where grammar schools are located. For example, in 2016 Kent County Council reported that 2.8% of pupils attending grammar schools in the county were eligible for FSM, compared with 13.4% on children on FSM in Kent’s non-selective secondary schools.6
  • Socio-economically disadvantaged students, who are eligible for FSM or who live in poor neighbourhoods, are much less likely to enrol in a grammar school even if they score highly on key stage two (KS2) tests.7 For example, among Kent children who achieved Level 5+ in Reading, Writing and Maths at Key Stage 2 in 2015, 51.4% of children claiming FSM went on to attend a grammar school compared with 72.7% of children who were not claiming FSM.8
  • 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 just 6% of pupils aged 10 – compared with those children who attend grammars and are eligible for FSM.9
  • Children with SEND particularly lose out in a selective education system. Statistics from the DfE and Edubase show that the proportion of SEND pupils with  statements or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans was less than 0.1% in grammars, 2.4% in secondary modern schools and 1.8% across all schools. The proportion of pupils with SEND, but not sufficiently severe to have a statement or an EHC plan, was 4.2% at grammar schools, 13.5% at secondary modern schools and 12.4% nationally.10
  • Despite the limited nature of the Conservative Government’s proposals for the expansion of grammar schools, they remain a serious threat to an inclusive education system in which all children and young people can exercise their right to attend a good local school.

1 Rebecca Johnes, Jo Hutchinson and Jon Andrews (September 2016), Grammar Schools And Social Mobility, Education Policy Institute.

2 Freddie Whittaker (25 July 2016), ‘Fact-check: Do the arguments for new grammar schools stack up?’ Schools Week.

3Grammar Schools And Social Mobility

4 OECD (2016), Equations and Inequalities – Making Mathematics Accessible to All, OECD Publishing, Paris. p. 90.

5Grammar Schools And Social Mobility

6 Kent County Council (June 2016), Grammar Schools and Social Mobility Commission p. 10.

7 The Sutton Trust (November 2013), Poor Grammar: Entry to Grammar Schools for Disadvantaged Pupils in England, p. 5.

8Grammar Schools and Social Mobility Commission 

9 Poor Grammar: Entry to Grammar Schools for Disadvantaged Pupils in England.

10 DfE (January 2016), ‘Schools pupils and their characteristics, Local authority and regional tables:  SFR20/2016, Table 7c’;