A report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) claims that grammar schools offer many benefits for pupils, including significantly increasing the chances of disadvantaged pupils reaching highly-selective universities, especially Oxbridge. It calls on the government to extend the Selective School Expansion Fund and allow grammar schools to expand into disadvantaged areas. The report shows that 45% of pupils at grammar schools come from households with below median income making the point that, ‘the presence of grammar schools benefits pupils in every quintile of disadvantage.’

Chair of Comprehensive Future, Dr. Nuala Burgess, said, “We do not support the use of ‘below median income families’ as a proxy for disadvantage. No reputable piece of research into education, disadvantage and attainment, uses this crude and very broad measure. Below median, for example, would include many lower middle class, well-educated families, such as teachers, who are hardly disadvantaged in educational terms. This report performs a sleight of hand, suggesting this group are disadvantaged, when they are ‘the less advantaged half of the population’. This is disingenuous.

“For some reason, this report dismisses the tried and tested category of Free School Meals (FSM), let alone the more recent and devastatingly revealing category of ‘Long Term FSM’ as used by Gorard and Siddiqui and many other researchers. This research does not offer any insight into what is happening to seriously disadvantaged children in our schools, and cannot be considered credible evidence to justify the expansion of grammar schools.

“The author of this report, Iain Mansfield,  has come to some very sweeping conclusions on the basis of an almost complete lack of engagement with any of the current academic literature. It draws almost exclusively on Government reports, and ignores research which discredits the use of the ‘ordinary working families’ data. Where it does refer to reputable research, such as that conducted by the Sutton Trust, it is from a report dated 2008 which has been superseded by later research. Unfortunately for Mansfield’s arguments, over the last few years there has been a wealth of high quality, peer-reviewed academic research into the relationship between grammar schools and the reproduction of social disadvantage. Grammar schools do well, as Gorard and Siddiqui’s recent, exhaustive statistical survey of the subject has recently demonstrated, simply because they recruit an overwhelmingly high proportion of high attaining middle class pupils – pupils who would, arguably, do well in any school.”

The report also claims that grammar schools boost the chances of poorer pupils reaching university, claiming 39% of pupils in selective school areas progress from state schools to highly-selective universities, compared to just 23% in comprehensive areas.

Dr. Nuala Burgess, said, “It is disingenuous to compare university entry from selective authorities when grammar schools import vast numbers of high attaining pupils from non-selective areas. Trafford grammar schools import nearly 30% of pupils from outside the authority, while in Southend it’s over 50%. This is bound to skew university entry figures simply because higher proportions of the highest attaining pupils are being educated in the selective areas.”

The think tank report also makes the claim that state school pupils with a BME background are more than five times as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area rather than a non-selective area, although the numbers involved in this statistic are small.

Dr. Nuala Burgess said, “It’s true that certain BAME groups who attend grammar schools do achieve very good results. Nonetheless, alternative research shows that white British working class pupils in selective areas are underperforming. The best way to improve results for all pupils, regardless of social background and academic ‘ability’ is in high quality, well-funded, comprehensive schools.”

“The report suggests that poorer pupils do well at grammar school while ignoring the well known fact that extremely low numbers of disadvantaged pupils access selective schools overall. It chooses to move the goal posts and look at families earning up to average income because all other stats show grammar schools in a terrible light. Every parent should be confident that their local school is well-resourced and in a position to support and encourage children to achieve their potential – whether that means progressing to university or some other post-school destination. The government should stop tinkering with policy for 163 grammar schools and create instead a policy that improves secondary school education for all children.”

The findings in this report have been criticised by the following academics and education groups.

Dr Lindsey Macmillan, Dr Matt Dickson, and Professor Simon Burgess, ‘Grammar Schools and Access to Universities: HEPI report not an accurate or complete picture

Professor Becky Allen, ‘New grammar school rules, OK?’

Reclaiming Education, ‘Grammar schools helping ordinary working families?’

Peter Brant, higher education Policy Advisor and civil servant. ‘Surprising statistics’ (twitter thread.)

Karen Wespieser of the Driver Trust, ‘In this report it’s the evidence that’s selective.’  

More comment from Dr Lindsey Macmillan, Dr Matt Dickson, and Professor Simon Burgess, ‘Selective systems are precisely what “harm opportunities for other people’s children” – a further comment rejecting the HEPI report on selective schooling’

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