Why grammar schools are not a good idea

Studies say their role in boosting social mobility is a myth and that grammars never did much for the poorest

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Research has repeatedly concluded that grammar schools do not boost social mobility. Advocates cite the bright working-class pupils of the 1950s who went on to careers that would previously not have been open to them. 

But researchers say that was due to a post-war expansion of white collar jobs. Grammar schools may have educated working-class pupils to take these newly created jobs, but they were not responsible for creating this boom, they argue.

Supporters of grammar schools blame their abolition in the 1960s and 1970s for the decline in social mobility. But studies say this too is a myth and that grammars never did much for the poorest.

In 1959, when grammars educated the top 20 per cent or so of the cohort, nearly 40 per cent of these pupils failed to pass more than three O-levels. Only 0.3 per cent of grammar school pupils with two or more A-levels were from the skilled working class, according to Adrian Elliott, author of State Schools since the 1950s: the Good News.

Grammar school growth defended

A social divide is still seen in today’s remaining 164 grammar schools. A study by the Sutton Trust education charity in 2013 noted that less than 3 per cent of entrants to grammar schools were entitled to free school meals; almost 13 per cent came from fee-paying prep schools. 

The same study found that bright children from poor backgrounds were less likely to win a grammar school place than children from wealthier homes who achieved the same level in their SATs tests in the last year of primary school.