Grammar Schools


  • The Government has announced proposals to expand academic selection in England’s state education system in a move that would undermine decades of advances made by comprehensive education.  
  • In a green paper published in September 2016, the Government proposed lifting the current ban on opening new grammar schools, opening new selective free schools, allowing existing comprehensive schools to become selective and allowing academy trusts to establish selective centres – such as grammar streams – within their trust. 1
  • The Government never states that the creation of more grammar schools would result in the creation of more secondary modern schools yet this is the inevitable consequence of such a policy. In effect it would mean a return to a two-tier secondary education system with the outcomes of a test at age 11 determining a child’s educational future and life chances.
  • Comprehensive schools in areas where existing grammar schools are being allowed to expand have already expressed concerns about the impact that this policy will have on the “intake profiles and therefore the ethos” of their schools.2
  • The Government and the pro-grammar school lobby argue that selective education allows more academic pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to secure better academic success and helps to close the attainment gap between richer and less well-off pupils. However, the evidence shows that the opposite impacts will be felt.
  • 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.3/sup>
  • 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.4  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.5
  • Furthermore, selective education systems are also linked with greater inequality in social outcomes later in life.6
  • The main measure of disadvantage is the proportion of children on free school meals (FSM) and grammar school 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.7 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.8
  • 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.9 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.10
  • 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. 11
  • Children with SEND particularly lose out in a selective education system. Statistics from the DfE and Edubase shows 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.12
  • Pupils, irrespective of their background, have a lower chance of attending a grammar school if they attend primary schools with higher proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, with special educational needs or with English as an additional language.
  • Nationally, almost a quarter of state school pupils receive private or home tuition, rising to 40% in London.13 Children from more affluent homes that can afford the fees of up to £50 an hour for private tutoring will be at a significant advantage when sitting the 11+ grammar school entrance test.
  • Grammar school proponents have argued that it should be possible to develop a “tutor-proof” 11+ test. However, local campaigners in Buckinghamshire found that, although over £1 million had been spent on developing a 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.14
  • It has been suggested that new grammar schools would be located in low and middle income areas, thus boosting the chances of academic children living in those areas. 15  However, the location of a grammar school in a more disadvantaged area does not mean that children living in close proximity to the school will necessarily have the opportunity to attend. Stand-alone grammar schools often draw large numbers of their pupils from outside their local authority. In 2013, for example, two-thirds of pupils at grammar schools in Stoke-on-Trent and Kingston-upon-Thames lived in a different authority area.16 In Buckinghamshire more children living outside the county pass the 11+ than local children, with children travelling distances of up to 13km to attend the county’s grammar schools. 17
  • Giving a grammar school in a low and middle income area a small catchment area would not solve this problem. Proximity to a desirable school has an impact on house prices, with a premium of up to 12% on the cost of property within the catchment area of the highest performing schools.18
  • The commitment to state-funded, comprehensive education is one of the defining principles and historic values of the NUT. Only in a comprehensive education system can all children and young people exercise their right to attend a good local school where they can experience a broad and balanced curriculum.

    1 Department for Education), Schools that work for everyone. (12 September 2016

    2 Rednock School letter to Stroud High School 29 January 2015 and Archway School letter to Marling School 26 February 2015.

    3 Rebecca Johnes, Jo Hutchinson and Jon Andrews, Grammar Schools And Social Mobility (September 2016), , Education Policy Institute. Summary available here:
    Full report available at:

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

    5 Johnes et al, Grammar Schools and Social Mobility

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

    7 Jonnes et al, Grammar Schools and Social Mobility

    8 Kent County Council (June 2016), Grammar Schools and Social Mobility Commissionp. 10.

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

    10   Kent County Council Grammar Schools and Social Mobility Commission, p. 10

    11 The Sutton Trust Poor Grammar p. 5

    12 DfE (January 2016), ‘Schools pupils and their characteristics, Local authority and regional tables: SFR20/2016, Table 7c’; EduBase (register of educational establishments). Downloaded April 2016. 

    13 The Sutton Trust Poor Grammar p. 5

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

    15 Richard Vaughan (13 August 2016), ‘Exclusive: new grammar schools plan 'unlikely' to go nationwide’, TES.

    16  The Sutton Trust Poor Grammar p. 5

    17 David King(18 December 2015), ‘Critics hit out at number of non-Bucks children passing 11-plus and “huge” distances pupils travel to grammars’ The Bucks Herald.

    18 Steven Gibbons (Autumn 2012), ‘Valuing Schools Through House Prices’ Centre Piece, p. 2

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