Government 'should phase out grammar schools'

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The Independent Online

Grammar schools should be scrapped to make the education system fairer for pupils from deprived backgrounds, a government-funded report says. Faith schools and academic selection are contributing to segregation between rich and poor, the study for the Department for Children, Schools and Families found.

Backing wider use of lotteries to allocate school places, it suggested that the Government "phase out" England's 164 remaining selective grammars. Popular faith schools could also be forced to take a quota of children from families with no religious beliefs, the research suggested.

"Fair and just policies on school admissions are an important mark of commitment by governments to equality of opportunity," it concluded. "Selection by prior attainment is also largely selection by social background. One option would be to phase out selective schools. Another is to require the admissions authorities for grammar schools to ensure equal social representation among those who qualify on the 11-plus test."

The study, by academics at Sheffield Hallam University and the National Centre for Social Research, is the first full-scale survey of secondary school admissions in England since 2001. It revealed that parents were largely happy with schools their children attended.

But researchers warned that many schools – especially grammars and faith schools – were socially exclusive and took more pupils from wealthier backgrounds. They criticised the Government's expansion of specialist secondary schools with the right to select up to 10 per cent of their pupils on "aptitude" for a particular subject, such as music or maths. The proportion of secondaries in England which select pupils by aptitude more than trebled from 1.3 per cent in 2000 to more than 4.1 per cent by 2006.

"There were therefore more children in 2006 than in 2000 subject to selection by aptitude," the study said. Selecting pupils on their aptitude for, say, music or languages is not the same as general academic selection, the researchers said. But they said wealthy families were better equipped to help their children develop these aptitudes.

"There are strong arguments to suggest that selection by aptitude is likely to be socially selective by default," the report said. "A high relative attainment in any of the subjects (even sport) will involve expense of resources of time and money for travelling, equipment and training. More affluent families have more of these resources."

The NUT general secretary, Steve Sinnott, said: "The study finally nails the lie that selection helps those from disadvantaged backgrounds. On the contrary, it widens the gap between the haves and have-nots. The solution must be to ensure fair and inclusive admissions procedures for all young people."

Martin Johnson, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "There is clear evidence the existence of selective and faith schools creates social segregation.

"Since Mrs Thatcher sanctioned closure of grammar schools, politicians have been scared to make those decisions, and the Government devised an unworkable local ballot system to avoid the issue."