Selection by house price will be stopped by selection by ability, says Telegraph

Janet Downs's picture

Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled that new grammars are needed to stop selection via house prices, according to the Daily Telegraph.

It is unclear how one form of segregation based on house prices would be avoided by another form of segregation based on performance in a couple of tests at age 11.  But the Telegraph is convinced selection at 11 will stop ‘rich’ parents dominating ‘top-performing schools’.

So where are these top performing schools dominated by ‘rich’ parents?   The figures cited came from a Lloyds Bank survey of just 30 state schools in England with the ‘strongest’ GCSE results in 2015.  These are schools where 100% of the 2015 GCSE cohort achieved the benchmark 5+ A*-C including Maths and English*.    According to the Telegraph, parents have to pay £53,426 (17%) more than average house prices in ‘surrounding counties’ to live near these schools.

But there’s a flaw in the Telegraph’s claim that paying extra money for a house near these 30 schools would ensure eligibility.  First, the child has to pass the 11+ because all these schools are selective.  No amount of house price premium will get an 11+ failure through their doors.  Second, 15 of the 30 are for girls only; nine are for boys.  No chance, then, of a place for a child of the wrong gender.  One of the girls-only grammars is a Roman Catholic school which means it selects three ways: ability, gender and religion.

Where do the 11+ failures in these areas go to school?  Presumably their parents have paid the same ‘premium’ to live in the area.  But there’s only a one-in-four chance of their children being selected no matter how much parents paid for their house.  And if the children are the wrong gender or religion, then even those who pass the 11+ will have to look elsewhere if their parents want them to attend a grammar.

Presumably the unselected children attend schools deemed low-performing.  This is highly likely since they’ve been creamed of high ability pupils. 

Hype by estate agents and banks suggests parents must pay more to be near a ‘top performing school’.   But that’s judging schools merely on results – and very high ones.   76% of England’s state secondary schools are good or better.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to live near one.   Unfortunately, some of the 76% have barriers to entry: ability, aptitude, religion, catchment areas and subtle deterrents (eg uniform cost, an ‘ethos’ which puts off parents of low-achieving children, hints that parents make regular ‘voluntary’ contributions).  It is admission barriers which need tackling to ensure fairness in the secondary sector in England not suggesting even more obstacles by extending selection.

*There were actually 36 grammars where 100% of pupils reached the GCSE benchmark in 2015.  It’s unclear why Lloyds Bank didn’t include these six in their analysis.  I don’t know which six were omitted – my analysis is based on the rank order given inSchool Performance Tables.  I simply took the first 30. 




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agov's picture
Fri, 09/09/2016 - 08:06

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that higher ability people tend to earn more and can therefore afford to live in nice areas? Consequently schools in such areas are likely to benefit by having catchment areas with a population of above average ability. Adding selection into the mix adds to the advantage the school enjoys. That doesn't necessarily mean people live in an area because of the school; the school benefits from being located in an area where higher ability people would be choosing to live anyway.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2016 - 08:45

agov - you're right but it's always spun as selection by house price.  That said, if the area is selective then no amount of 'premium' will ensure a place at the top-performing school if the child fails.  Take Beaconsfield High School, Buckinghamshire, which the DT said had the largest premium, with homes trading at £629,021.  It's a very expensive area in any case.  But the nearest non-selective school for local children who aren't selected to Beaconsfield High (which is all girls in any case) go to 'low-performing'  The Beaconsfield School.  You could say that parents are paying a 'premium' to be able to gain access to a low-performing school.

Andy JS's picture
Mon, 12/09/2016 - 16:52

The question is this: if the choice is between selection based on money and selection based on ability, which one would you support? I would argue that this is the choice in the real world, as opposed to a fantasy world where you can have no selection at all. Surely it's fairer to have selection by ability than selection by money, but for some reason most on the left of politics seem to refuse to acknowledge this, maybe because they want to live in that fantasy world of no selection at all, which can never exist because selection is based on catchment areas which are, in turn, based on who can afford to buy property in each area.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 12/09/2016 - 17:14

76% of England's secondary schools are good or better.  As I said above, it shouldn't be too difficult to find one near to where parents live.  These good or better schools can't ALL be in affluent areas.  Many 'top-performing' schools (schools where 98% or above reach the benchmark) are in Lincolnshire, for example, where house prices tend to be lower than the national average - no 'selection by money' (ie house prices) there.   But no amount of premium (or lack of it as in Lincolnshire) will guarantee a place at these schools unless the child passes the 11+.

You seem to be arguing that because one type of discrimination exists (in some, but not all, areas) that the answer is to replace it with another form of discrimination.   Better to take steps to eradicate both kinds of discrimination than replace one with another.  Other countries in 'the real world' manage this - there is no reason why it shouldn't happen in England.

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