The King Edward VI Academy Trust, which runs six selective schools in Birmingham, is hoping to boost the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Its schools are intending to change admission rules to create catchment areas and admit poorer pupils with lower 11-plus test scores. Thousands of parents have signed a petition against these plans, which aim to fit the DfE’s new policy that grammar school’s must make efforts to admit more poorer pupils. 

Comprehensive Future’s Chair, Dr. Nuala Burgess, speaking to the Independent, said, “Grammar schools now have a problem. The government is urging them to socially engineer their intake to admit poorer pupils. However, this threatens to displace those families who have come to assume a grammar school place as their right. There’s bound to be a backlash.

“This petition shows how divisive selective schools can be and the harm they can cause to local communities. This kind of division simply wouldn’t happen if all families had access to equally good, well-funded local schools: schools where all children, irrespective of their academic attainment and interests, were given an equally high standard of education.”

Melissa Benn, writing in the Guardian, said, “The petitioners are walking a tightrope. There’s some unattractive social snobbery in their suggestion that allowing in more local children, as a result of a marginal drop in the pass mark, risks diluting previously high standards. Nor does it look good to appear to oppose educational opportunity for poorer kids.

She continues, “In this story, as with most coverage of selective education, rarely do we hear from the largest group of all: those who never had a hope in hell of a grammar school in the first place. When was the last time you heard a parent talking on Radio 4’s Today programme about how their child failed the 11-plus, perhaps on grounds of family circumstance or chronic poverty, and was sent to an under-resourced nearby school with few high-attaining children?

“Where are the petitions from the hundreds of thousands of families whose members have been belittled by a socially discriminatory school system, thus passing down the generations limited opportunities and a lack of self-belief?

“The evidence is overwhelming: grammar schools perpetuate a two-tier system that dangerously constrains the educational progress, confidence and life chances of the vast majority of poorer children. Only well-resourced comprehensive education, with high-quality schools in every area, can provide the best mix of excellence and equity. Tinkering with admissions in a fundamentally flawed system clearly solves nothing and, as the Birmingham petition conclusively shows, ends up pleasing no one.”