Ethnic background plays a significant role in grammar school entry, with disadvantaged white British pupils having the lowest rate of entry to grammars among a range of ethnic groups, according to new analysis published by the Sutton Trust today.

The Gaps in Grammar research brief finds that disadvantaged Indian pupils are four times more likely than disadvantaged white British pupils to attend a grammar school, while disadvantaged Chinese pupils are fifteen times as likely. Disadvantaged black pupils are now more than twice as likely to attend grammars as in 2012, but are still also significantly under-represented.

Previous research by the Sutton Trust has shown that children from the poorest homes are much less likely than any other pupils to attend a grammar school, even after allowing for location and prior attainment. Today’s research notes that a pupil attending a preparatory school is around ten times more likely to get into a grammar school than a pupil on free school meals.[1]

However today’s report finds that pupils from families who are ‘just about managing’ – or JAMS – are also significantly under-represented at grammar schools.

Using the IDACI index (Income Deprivation Affecting Children), researchers compared entry to selective schools from the most deprived to the least deprived fifth of neighbourhoods. They found that outside of London, children living in poorer neighbourhoods fare much worse than those from richer areas.

In selective areas, 34% of pupils in grammars are from the richest fifth of neighbourhoods, compared with 4% from the poorest fifth and 11% from the second poorest fifth of neighbourhoods. Non-disadvantaged children from these areas, likely to be from ‘just-about-managing’ families, were substantially less likely to attend grammar schools. In less selective areas, only 8% and 10% are from the bottom two categories, while 39% are from the top fifth.

The research also looks at GCSE attainment for pupils at grammar schools. It confirms that while grammar school pupils do score slightly higher at GCSE, it concludes that much of this can be explained by prior levels of attainment. On average, bright pupils do just as well in the best comprehensives as they do in grammars.

The research, which is published with the Sutton Trust’s response to the government’s consultation on providing more good school places, raises serious concerns about using grammar schools in their current form as a vehicle for social mobility. In its response, the Trust is urging the government to make sure the admissions processes of existing grammar schools are fair, before their capacity is expanded.

To do this, the Trust recommends that grammar schools engage in extensive outreach to give those from low and middle income homes the opportunity to apply. Also schools should prioritise pupils from low and middle income homes who meet the entrance criteria in their admissions process. And to provide all pupils with a level playing field, all pupils should get a minimum ten hours preparation before admissions tests.

But to support bright pupils in all schools – not just grammars – the Trust would like to see the government establish a highly able fund in comprehensive schools. This would do much to improve social mobility, maximising the attainment of highly able pupils.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation and of the Sutton Trust, said:

“We know that pupils from the poorest homes are significantly under-represented in grammar schools. Today’s research tells us two new things: that underrepresentation is significantly higher for white and black working class children than it is for those from Chinese and other Asian communities. We can also see that those from families who the Prime Minister is concerned about are ‘just-about-managing’ are also much less likely to gain a place than their better-off classmates.

“Today’s research raises concerns about the government’s plans to use new grammars as a vehicle for social mobility. We need to get existing grammars moving in the right direction before we consider expanding their number.”

For any other questions or to arrange an interview, please contact: Hilary Cornwell on 0207 802 1660


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 180 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. Ethnicity access figures are based on statistics on year 7 pupils provided by DfE in response to parliamentary questions in November 2016. Figures on the ‘just managing’ are based on a re-analysis of previous Sutton Trust research using small area statistics on in-work tax credits and the Income Deprivation Affecting Children (IDACI) index to look at grammar school entry across the socioeconomic spectrum. Other figures on grammar school entry and attainment were calculated by Education Datalab and analysed by the Sutton Trust.

[1] 2.5% of pupils who entered grammars in 2015/16 are eligible for free school meals compared to 14.1% nationally, whereas 11% of pupils who entered grammar school are likely to have come from prep schools, compared to around 6.5% nationally. We estimate that 0.76% of FSM children attended grammar school compared to 7.5% of prep school children.

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