Pupils from less well-off backgrounds are significantly underrepresented at the country’s top 200 state secondary schools (6% of schools) according to a study by the Sutton Trust based on data provided by the National Foundation for Educational Research.
The study found that only 3% of the students at those schools qualify for free school meals compared to a national average of 14.3%, and a rate of 12.3% in the postcode sectors of those schools.
Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, which he set up in 1997 to help non-privileged children, said: “We have replaced an education system which selected on ability with one that is socially selective: the best comprehensives serve the relatively affluent, while the remaining grammar schools attract far too few able students from poor backgrounds.”
He called on top flight schools to broaden their intake by reaching out to their local communities, as happens at Pate’s School in Cheltenham.
He said: “At Pate’s we fund a curriculum enrichment project aimed at local primary schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Extending this sort of initiative to all grammar and top comprehensive schools would make a real difference to the attainment and aspirations of the poorest in society.”
He also called on the Government to introduce a national network of dedicated school buses so that leading state schools are in reach of all pupils, not just those whose parents have the time and resources to drive to them by car.
The data in the report relate to 2003, the latest year available, and were supplied by the National Foundation for Educational Research from the National Pupil Database. The top 200 schools (161 of which were grammar schools) were ranked on the basis of the percentage of students gaining five or more GCSEs with A*-C Grades. Although grammar schools were found to be more socially exclusive than top comprehensive schools – with 2.1% of students eligible for free school meals compared to 6% at the comprehensives – the report says much of this difference can be explained by the fact that grammar schools are sited in more affluent areas. The average gap – at just under 10 percentage points – between school and area FSM rates is found to be the same for both the top comprehensives and grammar schools.
The report concludes: “It is clear that the admissions system is not operating equitably and is in need of review, and that more needs to be done to raise standards earlier down the educational chain. The unevenness of the state school system serves to exacerbate existing inequalities and we see its consequences in the under-representation of those from lower social classes and poorer areas in Higher Education, particularly at the leading universities.”