Grammar Schools


  • The Government has announced proposals to increase academic selection in the state system through a lifting of the ban on the expansion of existing grammars, the creation of new selective schools in “response to local demand”, and allowing existing non-selective schools to become selective. 1
  • This amounts to the creation of more grammar schools and would, therefore, also lead to the creation of more secondary modern schools, or the de facto conversion of comprehensive schools in areas where new grammar schools were built or where existing grammar schools opened on new sites. Comprehensive schools in areas where existing grammar schools are expanding have already expressed concerns about the impact that this will have on the “intake profiles and therefore the ethos” of their schools.2
  • 23% of the public want existing grammar schools to be scrapped and a further 17% want existing grammar schools to be allowed to remain, but do not want grammar school expansion or the creation of new grammar schools. As only 38% of people support more grammar school places via new schools or the expansion of existing school a higher proportion of the public oppose the creation of more grammar school places than those who support a growth in selective state education.3
  • Those in favour of grammar schools argue that selective state education allows academic pupils from more 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 this is not the case.
  • Less than 3% of all pupils going to grammar schools are entitled to free school meals (FSM), against an average of 18% in other schools in the areas where they are located. For example, in 2016 Kent County Council reported that 2.8% of pupils attending grammar schools were eligible for FSM, compared to 13.4% in non-selective Kent secondary schools.4
  • 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.5 For example, among Kent children who achieved Level 5+ in Reading, Writing and Maths at Key Stage 2 in 2015, 51.4% claiming FSM were attending a grammar school compared to 72.7% of non-claiming children.6
  • Evidence from the DfE and Edubase shows that the proportion of pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) 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 SEN, 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. 7
  • 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 6% of pupils aged 10 – than children entitled to FSM.8
  • Pupils, irrespective of their background, have a lower chance of attending a grammar school if they attend primary schools with greater 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.9 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. 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.10
  • 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.11However, the location of a grammar school in a more disadvantaged area does not mean that children living in close proximity to the school will have the chance 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.12 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.13
  • 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.14
  • Selective education systems are also linked with greater inequality in social outcomes later in life.15 Grammar schools do not raise educational standards for the majority of children. Although pupils who pass the 11+ and are admitted to grammar schools generally achieve well, this is 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 is lower than that of comprehensive schools.16

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

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

3 YouGov poll published 15 August 2016:

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

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

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

7 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. 

8 The Sutton Trust Poor Grammar p. 5

9 The Sutton Trust Poor Grammar p. 5

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

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

12 The Sutton Trust Poor Grammar p. 5

13 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.

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

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

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

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