Report Overview

This research brief by Carl Cullinane addresses the government’s argument that grammar schools benefit disadvantaged and highly able students and improve the education system as a whole. The brief starts with a review of grammar school evidence then explores the questions: do grammar schools facilitate social mobility and does the education system as a whole benefit? It answers these questions by looking the attendance of grammar schools by different socio-economic and ethnic groups; examining access to grammars for disadvantaged students and those from Just About Managing families, along with examining the proportion of privately educated pupils vis-à-vis state educated pupils. It concludes by comparing performance between highly able students at grammar schools and top comprehensives.

Key Findings
  • Previous Sutton Trust research has shown that disadvantaged children are much less likely than other pupils to attend grammar schools. However, our new analysis shows that other students from families on below average incomes (those ‘Just About Managing’), are also significantly under-represented.
  • Ethnic background also affects rates of grammar school entry. Disadvantaged white British children enter grammar school at the lowest rate of any major ethnic group. Disadvantaged Indian pupils are four times more likely to attend a grammar than disadvantaged white British pupils, and disadvantaged Chinese pupils fifteen times more.
  • While there have been modest increases in the rate of grammar entry for disadvantaged black children and white non-British over the past five years, the rate of white British entry has not improved.
  • High proportions of grammar school pupils come from the independent primary school sector, roughly double the rate you would expect. In fact, a pupil attending a private prep school is ten times more likely to enter a grammar than a pupil on free school meals.
  • Attainment in GCSEs is higher in grammars than comprehensives, for both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. However, much of this is attributable to high levels of prior attainment of the pupils entering grammars. Highly able pupils achieve just as well in top comprehensives as they do in grammar schools.
  1. Provide a minimum ten hours test preparation for all pupils to provide a level playing field.
  2. Schools should prioritise pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium in admissions
  3. Improve outreach work to families from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly looking at ethnic groups with much lower propensities to attend grammars.
  4. The government should establish a highly able fund to support the prospects of high attainers in comprehensive schools.
  5. All pupils should have fair access to sit EBacc subjects, particularly those eligible for the pupil premium.
  6. The Government should focus on improving fair access to existing grammar schools before any expansion in the number of grammar schools.