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Sally Weale: Grammar Schools and the great social mobility debate

Category: In the News
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The Guardian’s Sally Weale cites our ‘Poor Grammar’ research.

In her acceptance speech after becoming prime minister Theresa May set out a vision for a country “that works for everyone – not just the privileged few”. Four weeks into her premiership, central to that vision it seems will be an extension to selective education.

For their supporters, grammar schools are a vehicle for social mobility and a means for the gifted but disadvantaged to go beyond their social and economic boundaries, giving access to the top universities and most prestigious careers. Critics, however, say research shows the social mobility argument is a myth.

The number of grammar schools peaked at 1,300 in the mid-1960s when they educated a quarter of all state school pupils. From the 1960s onwards, however, they started to fall out of favour, and both central government and local authorities began to open all-ability comprehensive schools. The chief aim was to provide a fairer system and a better education for the remaining 75% of children in frequently inadequate secondary moderns.

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Research by the Sutton Trust educational charity has found that less than 3% of entrants to grammar schools are entitled to free school meals – a key indicator of social deprivation – whereas on average 18% of pupils in those selective areas are entitled to free school meals. The Sutton Trust also found that almost 13% of those who enter the grammar school system come from outside the state sector, often from fee-paying preparatory schools.

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On Monday, as the world of education absorbed the news that May’s new Tory government is about to open the way for greater selection, Sir Peter Lampl, the founder and chair of the Sutton Trust, called for a wholesale rethink. “The government is right to recognise that there is a serious issue about the education of highly able young people from low and middle-income backgrounds.

“Given that there have been 35,000 extra grammar school places since 1997 – and our evidence suggests the existing 163 grammars are largely very socially selective – we need a proper strategy rather than a piecemeal approach.

“That means a national drive to improve education for the highly able in comprehensives, backed by fairer admissions policies in urban schools. It means boosting access to the existing grammars for less advantaged young people. And it means opening up the 100 leading independent day schools on the basis of ability rather than ability to pay.”

 

Read the full article here.