There is a view that grammar schools add to the range of choice for parents and so should be more widely available. We often hear people say, “Grammar schools should be an option, why can’t they be available for those who want them?” There are a couple of things going on with this line of thought. There is an implied suggestion that, ‘grammar schools cause no harm’ so they should be available as one of many school options in an area. However, grammar schools do not exist in a vacuum, they change all the schools around them.
There is also a naive assumption that everyone who likes grammar schools will be able to use them. There are so many estate agents selling houses with the line, ‘near excellent grammar schools.’ Do parents who buy these houses just assume their child will pass the 11-plus and claim a place? Of course it is always a grammar school that chooses who to teach, these schools are not a true choice for anyone because they do all the choosing. Sadly if a child fails the grammar school selection test they will be guaranteed a very different style of school. They will attend a school with few high attainers, that has lost a section of its natural community to the grammar school.
How are schools changed by grammar schools? The effects can be subtle, but often mean:
-Higher numbers of disadvantaged pupils and SEND pupils than average, because grammar schools rarely admit these pupils. This can lead to these schools facing more challenging behaviour and student needs.
– Schools with fewer high attainers than average, leading to difficulties creating ‘top set’ classes and less likelihood of a strong sixth form offering a range of A level subjects.
– Challenges during the current teacher recruitment crisis, with evidence that subject specialist teachers are more likely to teach in grammar schools leaving non-selective schools with less qualified teachers.
– It is also widely accepted that results are worse in non-selective schools in selective areas than in comprehensive schools, perhaps due to all these factors, with evidence proving this point.
Obviously estate agents don’t mention any of these problems, but the ‘choice’ of a grammar school in any area actually wrecks choice for most families. Any area that offers grammar schools means changes to a community of schools, with parents no longer finding any option of a comprehensive school with a natural attainment profile.
When people talk about offering a ‘choice’ of a grammar school, they should consider the needs of other parents, most of whom want a regular comprehensive school and not a de facto secondary modern.
To read more in our grammar school myths series click HERE.