Attending grammar school may not boost chance of good GCSE grades, study suggests

'There appears to be little added benefit to pupils' educational achievements from attending selective schools'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Friday 23 March 2018 01:29 GMT
Academic achievement does not differ between children attending selective and non-selective schools, study finds

Attending a grammar school or private school has a limited impact on a pupil’s academic achievements, a study suggests.

There is almost no difference in GCSE scores between selective schools and non-selective schools – after accounting for factors used to select pupils, King's College London (KCL) researchers found.

The study suggests that students at private and grammar schools scored around a GCSE grade higher across English, maths and science, than their peers in non-selective state schools.

But once cognitive ability, prior achievement and socio-economic status are taken into account, there was less than a 10th of a grade difference in the GCSE results.

“For educational achievement there appears to be little added benefit from attending selective schools,” the study, which is published in the journal npj Science of Learning, says.

The research, which is based on an analysis of more than 4,000 students in England and Wales, also found that pupils who go to selective schools are genetically more likely to do well in exams.

KCL researchers measured “polygenic scores” by assessing the DNA of individual pupils and looking for genes linked to educational success.

There are thousands of genetic variants that are linked to educational achievement that when added together can have an impact on a student's chances of doing well in exams, the study notes.

The findings show that on average, students in non-selective schools had lower polygenic scores for academic achievement compared to those in grammar and private schools.

Overall, three times as many students in the top 10 per cent of polygenic scores went to a selective school, compared to the bottom 10 per cent.

Emily Smith-Woolley, lead author of the report, said: “Our study suggests that for educational achievement there appears to be little added benefit from attending selective schools.

“While schools are crucial for academic achievement, the type of school appears less so.”

She added: “Although school type appears to have little impact on achievement at GCSE, there are many reasons why parents may opt to send their children to selective schools.

“Future research is needed to identify if school type makes a difference in other outcomes, such as university and career success.”

Lee Elliot Major, CEO of the social mobility charity Sutton Trust, told The Independent: “This research confirms what we already know – that the results in grammars reflect prior attainment and socio-economic background – and we have shown how the best comprehensives gain similar results for their high ability pupils.

“We welcome moves by a growing number of grammar schools to give preference to disadvantaged pupils. Yet you are ten times more likely to get into a grammar school if you went to a prep school than if you are on free school meals.”

Mr Major called on grammar schools to introduce contextual admissions policies to increase the number of poorer pupils, and he added they should do “more to counter the benefits of tutoring”.

The study comes after Theresa May’s proposals to lift the ban on creating new grammar schools were dropped in the wake of the general election result.

But the 163 existing grammar schools in England are still allowed to take on more pupils – and a number of selective schools are planning to expand by opening satellite sites.

And many schools – even if they do not select on entry - use ability-based sets to group children on their academic achievement.

Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education have found that students in bottom sets are being hindered by this practise.

A separate study also released on Friday said students in lower sets face a reduced curriculum based on repetitive tasks, and teachers are often reluctant to risk overstretching these pupils by teaching complex content.

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