Grammar schools are taking positive steps to become more accessible to pupils from all backgrounds and should be encouraged to develop this work further said James Turner, Director of Programmes at the Sutton Trust.

Speaking at the Grammar Schools Heads Association National Conference in London, James Turner also welcomed the commitment by Schools Minister David Laws, to widening access to grammar schools and making the issue a priority in government.

Recent research for the Sutton Trust found that state grammar schools took four times as many pupils from private prep schools (13%) as children eligible for free school meals (3%). In other state schools in areas that operate the grammar system, around 18% of children are eligible for free school meals.  Just 6% of 10 year-olds nationally are independently educated.

The research also showed that 66% of children who achieve level 5 in both English and Maths at Key Stage 2 who are not eligible for free school meals go to a grammar school compared with only 40% of similarly high achieving children who are eligible for free school meals.

The Sutton Trust has called for four steps to improve access to grammar schools for pupils of all backgrounds:

  • Increasing outreach work to ensure that low income pupils sit the 11-plus tests.
  • Giving disadvantaged students the opportunity to prepare for the tests so they can compete on a more level playing field with students who may have received intensive tutoring.
  • Working to make the tests as fair as possible and taking steps to “tutor-proof” them.
  • Giving priority to pupils with good test results who are in receipt of the pupil premium.

The Trust is currently working with the King Edward VI Foundation, which runs five grammar schools in Birmingham, Durham University, the Grammar School Heads Association and the Department for Education to target and evaluate the most effective strategies to broaden access to grammar schools.

A range of initiatives being run by the Foundation, including test familiarisation sessions at community locations, visits from primary schools and support for numeracy and literacy teaching for gifted and talented children at local primary schools, will be evaluated by Durham University to understand and compare their impact. The resulting analysis will provide a template for other grammar schools to work with.

James Turner, Director of Programmes at the Sutton Trust, said:

“The debate about grammar school admissions is a controversial one, touching on both the rights and wrongs of the 11-plus and so-called ‘social engineering’ in education admissions. But there is much to be gained in tackling the issue of widening access to grammar schools.

“These schools really can provide a golden ticket of opportunity to the pupils that attend them. There’s a long way to go in ensuring that opportunity is open to all, regardless of background, but things are heading in the right direction. I hope that the Sutton Trust’s work in this area, together with the Government and grammar schools’ commitment to this issue, will reap rewards soon.”


  1.  The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 140 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. The Sutton Trust research on grammar schools, Poor Grammar, published in November 2013, is available here.

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