Jonathan Gullis MP

A group of Conservative MPs have launched a campaign seeking to overturn the ban on creating new grammar schools. The Telegraph reported on May 3rd that the MPs are campaigning for new selective free schools to be built in disadvantaged communities in the North of England. Jonathan Gullis the MP leading the group, claims lifting a ban on new grammar schools would help “level up” education for poorer areas.

Comprehensive Future has written to Jonathan Gullis MP inviting him to share the evidence used to support this plan. CF hope to secure a House of Commons event for both groups of campaigners to discuss the evidence for and against expanding selective education.

Comprehensive Future’s Chair, Dr Nuala Burgess, said “We challenge Gullis to a debate on the merits of grammar schools as engines of social mobility. We have the peer-reviewed research evidence to show that these schools do nothing of the sort.

“Countless studies show that poorer children and those with additional learning needs – the very children who should be at the heart of this Government’s levelling up agenda –are the least likely to be accepted into a grammar school. The research also confirms that grammar schools generate wider attainment gaps in areas where they exist. Results in grammar school areas are no better than comprehensive areas and in some selective areas, such as Kent, overall GCSE results are worse than the national average.

“Where is Gullis’ evidence that grammar schools improve social mobility and bring opportunity to disadvantaged areas? CF would genuinely like to hear it and invite him to debate the issue with us. We think it would be a very useful opportunity to have this matter discussed properly and in the open. We share Gullis’ conviction in believing in a type of education which brings the very best out of England’s disadvantaged children. All that Mr Gullis and Comprehensive Future appear to disagree about is the type of school which would achieve the very best for disadvantaged and all children.”

Comprehensive Future has recently completed a major research project looking at data from selective schools in England. The research for CF’s interactive map of grammar schools in England shows that just 5% of grammar school pupils are eligible for free school meals, while the average in non-selective schools is 23%. Findings also show that 1 in 10 grammar school pupils previously attended a fee paying ‘prep’ school, demonstrating the demographic profile of a typical grammar school is skewed towards wealthier pupils. In 2018, Durham University undertook a large-scale study of more than 500,000 pupils in England and concluded that “results from grammar schools are no better than expected” once social factors such as poverty, ethnicity, language, and special educational needs were taken into account.

Dr Nuala Burgess said, “I think Mr Gullis might be surprised by the evidence we have uncovered. A very small proportion of children on free school meals attend grammar schools in deprived coastal towns such as Kent and Lincolnshire, as well as disadvantaged areas of Walsall and Wolverhampton. These areas also have a thriving 11-plus tuition industry which prey on families who pay for coaching they can ill-afford. We can find no evidence which confirms grammar school boost social mobility in deprived areas. If anything, they have a seriously detrimental effect.

“This campaign to build new grammar schools seems to be driven by ideology, not evidence. We hope Jonathan Gullis and other MPs who are part of this campaign will accept our invitation for a debate. We welcome the opportunity of engaging with them and to hear any research-based, peer-reviewed evidence they may have.”

CF’s email to Jonathan Gullis MP

Dear Jonathan Gullis,

Comprehensive Future is a campaign group that promotes the benefits of comprehensive education and fair admissions to school. We are surprised to learn of your new campaign to expand the grammar school system on the grounds that they promote social mobility in areas of social disadvantage. All the research-based, peer-reviewed evidence we have accessed would seem to confirm that grammar schools do not promote social mobility.

As we are sure you will agree, schools policy should be based on evidence. We would like to  understand the research on which you rely which leads you to conclude that expanding the grammar school system will improve social mobility. All the evidence we have confirms that selective education widens achievement gaps and does little to promote opportunity for poorer pupils.

We very much hope that you would be willing to join Comprehensive Future to debate the merits of grammar school expansion in an event which we would host at the House of Commons. Please take this letter as an invitation to you, or any MP in your new campaign group, to join us in such a debate. We suggest that each side includes two or three speakers, one of which is an academic or someone from a reputable research body, who has conducted peer-reviewed educational research into the impact of grammar schools.

We would be delighted to hold the event on a date that works for you.

Yours sincerely

Dr Nuala Burgess,

Chair, Comprehensive Future