Grammar Schools-Improving Social Mobility for the Richest?

grammarSpalding Grammar School

Last September Theresa May announced that her government will revoke Labour’s 1998 ban on the creation of new Grammar Schools. Following a private meeting with The Grammar School Heads’ Association and  Education Secretary Justine Greening, £150 million in funding has been promised over the next three years for existing grammar schools, and new grammars will be created by 2020. Yet with normal state schools heavily underfunded, and the government taking back the promised £384 million in funding for state schools, it is no wonder why this grammar expansion is so contested.

A Brief History:

Grammar schools have existed in the UK since the 16th century, although only since the 1944 Education Act when the modern non-fee paying grammar schools were born.

Prior to 1944, secondary education after 14 had been fee-paying, but the Act now made it free. It also categorised secondary education into three basic groups, also known as the “tripartite system”, grammar schools, focusing on academia, whilst assuming most pupils would go on to higher education;  secondary modern schools, were created for pupils to go into trades, thus concentrated on basic and vocational skills; and the third type of school, the technical school, focusing on theoretical education, with few built. A test called the 11-plus was introduced to categorise students into this new system, with the student’s future opportunities being based on test results, a story not unfamiliar

A test called the 11-plus was introduced to categorise students into this new system, with student’s future opportunities being based on test results, a story not unfamiliar to both selective and non-selective students of today. The system was controversial as a] it segregated children from age 11, and b] people feared that secondary modern schools were giving a second-rate education, due to resources being skewed towards grammars. These are still some of the most pressing concerns about grammar schools today, but for a less brief overview visit here for more information.


Why Does this matter?

Grammar Schools are great… for those who attend them. In the academic year, 2014-2015 96.7% of grammar school students got 5 or more A*-C GCSEs (including English and maths), compared to 56.7% at non-selective state schools. Theresa May argues that the expansion of Grammar Schools will increase the countries social mobility, but the evidence suggests that Grammar Schools increase the social mobility of a select few, leaving the majority of comprehensive state schools deprived of the best resources, teachers and students.

One of the main arguments against grammar schools is they increase the attainment gap, in other words, inequality. Those parents who can afford the time and financial resources to prepare their children for the 11-plus are not usually low earning and working class families.In fact, approximately 70% of students are said to have had some form of private tutoring in preparation for the 11-plus. This is made further clear when we look at the percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals (a widely used indicator for low social economic backgrounds). On average only 3% of pupils at existing grammars are eligible for free school meals, compared to 17 % in grammar school areas.

If there are only 163 grammar schools in the UK, with 167,000 pupils compared to 3.2 million pupils in state-funded secondary schools then why does the Prime Minister plan to go ahead with such a divisive, elitist policy, despite the myriad of opposition from education campaigners, academy CEOs and even her own Conservative backbenchers?

Despite not being a parent, and MPs calling Theresa May’s planned expansion an “unnecessary distraction”  I can somewhat understand why parents who can afford to would pay ridiculous amounts of money to get their children into these selective institutions, especially if they genuinely think it will improve the life chances of their children- which more often they do. Saying that what I don’t understand is why parents in these catchment areas don’t demand that existing non-selective school standards are increased so they won’t have to rely on an exclusionary and essentialized definition of talent for their children.

So surely it makes more sense to invest in improving the majority attended state schools? 

I’m in no position to tell anyone how to parent, or what’s best for their child, but if you’re a parent and are concerned about sending your child to one of the limited, overly competitive grammar school places- then why don’t you contact your MP and express your concerns?

At least that way no child should be left behind.


Chijioke Anosike
TWN Editor

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