The Education Secretary Justine Greening said that the government are looking at whether they want to allow grammar schools to expand in order to spread choice and encourage grammar schools work with local schools to raise attainment, arguing it is unsatisfactory that grammar school policy is currently “frozen in time”.
In recent debates, Greening has frequently quoted a Sutton Trust report from 2008 that said that when children on free school meals get into grammars, they do “disproportionately well”. The report by Durham University showed that on average pupils in grammar schools achieve between zero and three-quarters of a GCSE grade per subject more than similar pupils in non-selective schools. This result is similar to best practice setting and streaming as identified by the Sutton Trust/EEF toolkit.
To counter this point Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner MP, former Education Select Committee Chair Barry Sheerman and former schools minister and Education Select Committee member Stephen Timms MP claimed the Sutton Trust said that grammar schools are bad for social mobility.
The Sutton Trust’s position is that the government should ensure that existing grammar schools get it right before opening more grammar schools. Our most recent research has found that existing grammar schools are highly socially selective, with only 3% of pupils eligible for free schools meals getting into grammar schools. Our recommendations for how grammar schools could expand their FSM pupil intake may be found in our 2013 report Poor Grammar. This recommendations recently informed Kent County Council’s social mobility committee report into grammar schools that the full council endorsed this summer.
Justin Greening cited the Sutton Trust several times in the debate on grammars this week, she said:
“We know from evidence from the Sutton Trust that when children on free school meals get into grammars, they do disproportionately well. The same evidence also showed that there was no discernible lessening of attainment among children outside the grammar system.”
“The evidence is in the fact that 99% of those schools are good or outstanding. They are a model that delivers great education. The evidence also comes from the Sutton Trust, which has tracked how children on free school meals do disproportionately well when they get into grammars. As for the hon. Lady’s challenge on the broader system, I think that grammars should rise to it in terms of raising attainment. As I pointed out earlier, however, the Sutton Trust’s research has also shown that there is no discernible reduction in attainment among children who are outside the grammar school system.”
“I set out how research by the Sutton Trust has demonstrated the impact of grammars on free-school-meal children and on the broader school communities of which grammars are part. That is a case for change, not a case for keeping the status quo. I encourage my hon. Friend to look at our proposals to see how they can do exactly what he says, and I think he will welcome them.”
Education Committee Member Stephen Timms quoted the Sutton Trust as he said:
“The Secretary of State mentioned the Sutton Trust and it points out that 18% of pupils are on free school meals but only 3% of grammar school pupils are, so the fact that that tiny group does well does not support her policy, as she has claimed. Opening new grammar schools inevitably means creating new secondary modern schools, however it is dressed up. How can that possibly be a good idea?”
The Secretary of State replied:
“The reality is we should be enabling parents to have more choice, including having selection and grammars if they want them, but we should also be challenging grammars to do more on reaching out to disadvantaged children.”
This debate between Justine Greening and Stephen Timms over the Sutton Trust’s view on grammar schools continued in the Education Committee evidence session with the Education Secretary. Timms said that the Sutton Trust does not believe grammars would be good for social mobility and Greening that disadvantage pupils that get into grammars do “disproportionately well”.