Only 38% would support building new grammars, says latest YouGov poll

Janet Downs's picture
Only 38% agreed the Government should encourage more schools to select by academic ability and build more grammar schools, the latest Times Survey by YouGov found.

20% said existing grammar schools should remain but no more should be built while a further 26% said existing grammars should become comprehensive. 17% weren’t sure.

Support for increasing selection and more grammar schools was greatest among the over 60s (51%). However, support fell with every successive generation. Only 29% of 18-24 year-olds, many of whom will vote for the first time next year, support more selection. 29% of this age group would allow existing grammars to stay open but would not support the setting up of any more.

45% of those polled would support building new grammars in areas where they already exist if population growth meant there weren’t enough places for local children who passed the 11+. 36% of 18-24 year-olds agreed with this but slightly more, 38%, opposed.

The setting up of new ‘satellites’ linked to existing grammars but in a different location was supported by 47%. 24% opposed and 29% weren’t sure.

Although only 38% supported the building of new grammar schools, 54% said they would support a new grammar in response to a ‘demonstrated local demand’. This figure was used by The Times to justify its headline,

'Parents say yes to more grammar schools'.

The article (second paragraph) made it clear this would be in response to local demand but the first paragraph said:

‘A new generation of grammar schools across Britain would be backed by more than half of voters, a poll for The Times has found.’

But if The Times had used the figure of just 38% being in favour of the Government encouraging more selection and grammars then this paragraph would have to be rewritten as:

‘A new generation of grammar schools across Britain would be backed by fewer than 40% of voters...’

What the poll didn’t ask, of course, was how many would be in favour of a different kind of education for average/below-average ability children: first tier for the above average and second tier for the majority. But second tier, or secondary moderns, for the 75% doesn’t quite have the same electoral appeal.

If you pick the 54% figure and ignore the lower 38%, calling for a return of selection at 11+ might be seen as a vote winner. But it flies in the face of evidence. The OECD* found school systems which don’t segregate children by ability tend to do better in PISA tests. Research published in March showed that while selection might help those selected, it also increased the effect on socio-economic background. And the earlier selection began, the greater was the difference between schools.

But that wouldn’t matter, grammar school supporters might say, if it gives the brightest children a chance to fly. But when grammar pupils reach university, research found they are likely to be outperformed by their equally-qualified peers from comprehensives.

If instead of asking about grammar schools, the poll had asked if pollsters were in favour of sorting 11 year-olds into bright and middling/dim, then there might not have been much support. But that’s what selection at 11 means.

*OECD Education at a Glance 2011

UPDATE 5 December 12.12 Professor Chris Husbands outlines the case against selection at 11 here.

UPDATE 5 December 12.17 Five reasons why a return to grammar schools is a bad idea here.

And here is the 'demand' for a change of law to allow expansion of grammars. The reason given? It increased social mobility for the bright working class. But it didn't. And it will increase chances for the 'less privileged', the site says. But the existence of a grammar school in Skegness, one of the top three deprived seaside towns, hasn't helped the 'less privileged' there. Only 4.6% of pupils at Skegness Grammar School in 2013 were eligible for free school meals (FSM). But at Skegness Academy, 28.6% were FSM. The Lincolnshire average for secondary pupils is 17.8%.
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chris dunne's picture
Thu, 27/11/2014 - 17:28

I appreciate the thrust of your analysis, but I'm afraid I can only find the fact that anything like those percentages of people would support any kind of expansion of the system of selection quite alarming!

I am trying to put together a briefing paper fro journalists and politicians on the subject in the desperate hope that we can stop this country sleep-walking backwards into something that will damage irreparably our ability to compete globally.

HYUFD's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 19:27

It shows more voters want to introduce new grammar schools that do not, and even amongst the youngest voters most want grammar schools to stay or expand.

Your OECD report is also misleading, Finland for example selects at 16 into academic Lukos schools preparing for university entry and vocational schools, and it is near the top of PISA rankings. China also selects and Shanghai is high too. Your university report is also misleading grammar schools on average get far higher results than comprehensive schools at GCSE and A Level as they provide an academic environment, the fact some pupils in comprehensives of equal or even greater intelligence than their grammar and private school peers get lower grades at A Level then go onto get better degree grades is simply a reflection of how better they would flourish in a grammar school than a less academic comprehensive at 6th form

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 09:47

HYUFD - the statement 'more voters want to introduce new grammar schools' can only be sustained if you look at the YouGov answer to the question about whether a new grammar should be allowed if there was evidenced LOCAL demand. But the question asking whether more grammar schools should be introduced resulted in only 38% in support.

You mention Finland. Finland's system is fully-comprehensive up to 16. No selection at age 11. No grammar schools.

You also mention China. We don't know enough about China as a whole. We only know about a tiny number of carefully-selected (by China) areas.

The Sutton Trust research did not say comprehensive school pupils with lower grades at A level went on the outperform pupils from grammar/independent schools with higher grades. It found comprehensive pupils with the same A level grades went on to outperform their equally qualified peers from grammar and independent schools.

'Equally-qualified' does not mean 'lower at the comp'.

HYUFD's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 21:05

Yes and 38% was still the most popular option chosen. Parents can only close grammar schools by ballot, they cannot also choose to open new ones, something which surely needs to change!

Finland has academically selective lukos schools, ie grammar school equivalents, which have entry at 16 much as our grammar schools have entry at 16.

From the Chinese figures we have it is clear they have good results.

Given Oxbridge and Russell Group universities are dominated by students from private and grammar schools it would be astonishing if the few comprehensive school pupils who did get into them did not outperform those private and grammar school pupils who got the same A Levels as them to obtain entry when on a level playing field in an academically selective university. Had they been to an academically selective school they would almost certainly have got higher A Level grades than they did and fulfilled their full potential!

Brian's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 22:38

I didn't know the uk grammar schools had entry at 16. As far as I know grammar schools have selective entry at 11 like almost all secondary schools.

The Finnish system: 'The Finnish strategy for achieving equality and excellence in education has been based on constructing a publicly funded comprehensive school system without selecting, tracking, or streaming students during their common basic education.' (Finnish University of Joensuu report)


'After their nine-year basic education in a comprehensive school, students at the age of 16 may choose to continue their secondary education in either an academic track (lukio) or a vocational track (ammattikoulu),'

I note two points here. First, as above, the decision is made at 16 not 11. Secondly, and crucially, you will note the use of the word 'choose'. Important I think.

chris dunne's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 23:11

Clear evidence above (HYUFD) of the crying need for my briefing paper.

Finland was top of the international rankings until this year, and it is almost entirely made up of comprehensive schools up to 16, which is what the ranking is largely based on. We don't know very much about the performance of China as a whole (fact). We do know about the other countries which outperform Finland and the UK - South Korea, Singapore and Japan. They have turned their backs on the kind of selection being proposed by UKIP/May/Johnson, and rightly so since the OECD every year includes in its educational report the clearest possible advice that, as it said in 2011, "school systems with greater levels of inclusion have better overall outcomes and less inequality".

Incidentally, little known fact: after Finland the UK is next in the overall rankings, above all of the rest of Europe, Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand etc. etc.

In the 1960s, when many more state schools were grammar schools, some 30% of Oxbridge students were 'state' educated. The figure today, when most 'state' schools are comprehensives, the figure is 60%. There are many more than just a 'few' there now!

With regard to students "achieving their potential", 'state' school educated students outperform their privately educated counterparts at Russell Group universities (20% gain 1:1 or 2:1 degrees v 18%), but only 58% of them go on to secure the best professional jobs compared with 74% of privately educated graduates. More of them have got the best degrees, but the privately educated have presumably got better contacts, or their parents have.

HYUFD's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 02:24

Key word 'largely' you ignore the fact Finland then selects at 16 which is the age when it is most needed in the run up to public exams and university admission. Including one half of one sentence in one year report proves nothing, especially as most grammars are more inclusive than comprehensives from wealthy catchment areas.

As most of the nations you mentioned are comprehensive, albeit New York state has a few selective schools, your point proves nothing, and of course Japan does have selection with competitive entrance exams for public high schools and Singapore has 4 streams in secondary school, both outperform the UK and Finland. Germany also selects and tends to have higher social mobility than the UK in most league tables.

Your Oxbridge figures are wrong, in the late 1960s 2/3 of Oxbridge pupils went to state schools.

Private school pupils get 38% of A or A* grades at A Level yet make up only 7% of pupils so of course they will be strongly represented in the professions. 65% of private school pupils got a first or 2.1 compared to 52.7% from state schools

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 10:28

I love the ‘38% is still the most popular option chosen’. But it’s not a majority. The ‘most popular’ choice was outnumbered as follows:

26% wanted selection to be abolished and existing grammars to take children of all abilities.

20% said existing grammars should remain but no more should be built.

17% weren’t sure.

The figures above show 46% would not be in favour of any expansion of grammars. This figure includes those who would allow existing ones to stay but are against new ones.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 10:52

It’s not necessary for high-achieving pupils (as measured by Key Stage 2 SATS) to go to a grammar school in order to reach the Government’s benchmark of 5+ GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C. Here are the figures for previously-high achieving pupils in schools in a small corner of selective Lincolnshire for 2013.

Bourne Academy (non-selective): 100%
Spalding High School (selective girls): 100%
Bourne Grammar School (selective): 95%
Stamford Queen Eleanor (non-selective): 95%
The Deepings School (non-selective): 94%
Sir John Gleed, Spalding (non-selective); 89%
Spalding Grammar School (selective boys) 88%

NOTE: Reaching the benchmark does not, of course, tell us everything about the above schools. Ofsted judgements vary. But judged purely on achievement, high-ability children in this area are as likely to achieve the required standard in a non-selective school as in a selective one.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 11:25

HYUFD - the fact that Finland selects at 16 is not relevant. Selection for grammar schools takes place in the academic year when pupils reach the age of 11. As the 11+ is taken early in Y6 to allow results to be known before parents make their preferences for secondary education (deadline end of October), most of the children will actually be 10.

Finland does not select at 10. Finland does not select at 11. Finland has a comprehensive system until age 16. It is not until then that pupils decide what post 16 route to take (academic or vocational) based on their results at the end of compulsory education and their preferences.

According to Andreas Schleicher of the OECD (which runs the PISA tests), Germany's selective system is being challenged:

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 11:40

HYUFD - private school pupils are more likely to get good A level grades because they are selected for their ability to get good A level grades.

The figures cited by the DT missed one other group - the 'unknowns' where it was not known whether the student went to state or private school. This group comprised 16,930 students which is slightly more than 2/3 the size of the number of students from independent schools (24,360). (See here for data)

Quite apart from the fact that the 'unknowns' comprised a large number, what we don't know is how 'equally-qualified' students fared. As you say, the independent pupils would have been more likely to have had good A levels. The state school pupils would be more likely to have entered uni with anything from a good grade to a lower one. In other words, the ability range for state school pupils is likely to be wider and this would likely drive down overall performance. However, when Sutton Trust looked at equally-qualified students (ie those with the same A level passes), it found that students from comprehensive schools outperformed their equally-qualified peers from independent and grammar schools.

chris dunne's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 11:50

HYUFD, you seem not to understand the statistics. Forget A level grades and forget Guardian / Telegraph articles (journalists are notoriously bad with statistics - almost as bad as politicians).

I was referring to research by Bristol University in 2013 that shows state educated students (largely from comprehensive schools) outperforming privately educated students when both are studying at Russell Group universities. Very much the same outcome can be seen in research published by the Higher education Funding Council in 2014 and research published by the Institute of Education and Manchester University in 2014 shows that not only are comprehensive schools as successful as grammars in helping students to graduate from an elite HE institution but finds "no statistical evidence" that working class students at grammar schools gain any advantage in respect of entry to and success at HE.

When the same students then try to get post-graduate jobs in the higher professions the charity 'upReach' showed in 2013 that the ones who went to private schools were much more likely to get those jobs.

On Oxbridge entrance, again you are relying on a newspaper. Instead check the Robbins Report to Parliament in 1963. The figures for state-educated students at Oxford was 39% and for Cambridge 25%. The figures for 2012/13 (House of Commons Library) are Oxford 57.4% and Cambridge 63%.

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 14:02

I don't think the 1963 Robbins Report will be much use for proving the figures to HYUFD i for 'the late 1960s'.

That said, HYUFD's figures do look wrong as in 1970 the proportion of state school entrants to Oxford and Cambridge was between 40% and 45% according to HoC Library Standard Note SN/SG/616 (regret my browser not storing history so I cannot give a link but it should come up if you Google).

A significant point from the same source - there are 16 state grammar schools among the top 100 schools in terms of Oxbridge admissions rate. There are NO state comprehensives. (This credited to Sutton Trust 2011).

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 06/12/2014 - 08:29

Barry - now there's a surprise. Selective schools are more likely to be in the top 100 schools in terms of Oxbridge admissions than non-selective schools. Who'd have thought it?

Grammar schools (because they select according to ability) are bound to send more young people to Oxbridge than schools which cater for the whole ability range. That's not to say bright young people at comps can't get into Oxbridge if they wish to do so. Don't we keep hearing about how some pupils at Mossbourne have secured Oxbridge places? But I don't think Mossbourne is ever likely to be in the top 100 schools in terms of Oxbridge admissions.

And why judge schools on how many go to Oxbridge? There are other universities and higher education centres. They all offer degrees. Why should Oxbridge entry be used as a measure of success? We keep being told how important technical skills are so why not judge schools on the number of pupils doing apprenticeships? That's not likely to ever happen, however, because of the deep-rooted division between academic and vocational in the UK. And even among academic there's a division between Oxbridge academic, Russell group academic, redbrick academic, ex-polytechnic academic...

HYUFD's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 19:40

As the figures I posted make clear more privately educated pupils got 1st class or 2.1 degrees than state educated. It would be astonishing if state educated comprehensive students with equal A Level grades to their privately educated peers at Russell group universities did not outperform them at degree level, had those state educated pupils been to a selective private school they would almost certainly have got higher A Levels than their privately educated peers.

What the IEA Manchester University report showed was that 13% of grammar school pupils went to an elite university compared to only 5% of comprehensive school pupils, say it is a result of background if you wish but facts are facts

In terms of jobs, the Sutton Trust has shown that there has been a decline in the number of state educated journalists, for example, from 51% in 1986 to 46% in 2006. The number of magic circle law firm partners from state school has fallen dramatically from 49% of partners over 40 to only 29% under 39. More top judges, VCs, medics and ceos also came from grammar schools than comprehensives.
See ps 6-7
The 'upReach' research surely only emphasises the importance of the scholarships and bursaries provided by private schools given their successes getting their pupils into top jobs.

As for the Oxbridge figures, it is true that from the late 1960s there was a steady growth in the number of state educated pupils at Oxbridge, however this was largely a reflection of Oxbridge Colleges ending the practice of putting aside places and scholarships for favoured public schools. Of course the Robbins Report would also have reflected the old direct grant schools in the figures for private schools, which provided fees on a sliding scale and free entry for bright pupils of limited means

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 07/12/2014 - 14:29

As I said to Barry, there's no surprise that more grammar school pupils, selected for their ability to pass exams and proceed to uni, get into 'elite' universities than comprehensive schools which don't select and educate the full ability range (not just the hand-picked few).

You seem to be suggesting a scheme like the old Assisted Places scheme. The Sutton Trust found those who had been on the scheme tended to have middle-class jobs with a solid income (not exactly 'top jobs', but never mind). But the respondents didn't think it was because of the independent schools they'd attended - they said it was down to their own hard work and innate ability.

The Trust also found Assisted place holders from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (your 'bright pupils of limited means') didn’t always gain high level qualifications, were more likely to leave school at 16 and didn’t do as well as might have been expected and less well than their state-educated peers. (In other words, they would have gained higher qualifications if they’d stayed in state schools.)

The Trust actually gave a warning, it’s “impossible to ascertain…how our respondents might have fared had they not received an Assisted Place”. This caveat also applies to your opinion that bright comprehensive pupils would gain higher qualifications in a 'selective private school'. That assertion is 'impossible to ascertain'.

For more info and link see:

HYUFD's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 19:49

Barry Interesting point about grammars in the top 100 schools. The increase in state school entrants was largely a product of Oxbridge colleges ending their practice of setting aside places for pupils of favoured public schools

HYUFD's picture
Fri, 05/12/2014 - 19:56

Janet The fact that Finland selects at 16 is relevant. Grammar schools have an entry at 11, 13 and also 16 like Finland which has competitive entry to the lukio at that age The left will challenge selection in Germany as here, however they have not succeeded so far and supporters of the gymnasium have ensured they remain

The 'unknowns' you talk of could well include some private school pupils. In terms of equally qualified pupils, of course comprehensive pupils will outperform equally qualified private or grammar pupils on a level playing field at an academically selective university, had they been to an academically selective school they would have outperformed them there too.

A*-C merely measures the number of pupils achieving an average grade, while this is a fair way to measure the success of comprehensives, grammar schools get higher numbers achieving grades A*-A

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 06/12/2014 - 08:17

HYUFD - 'selection' at 16 (which is choosing based on previous attainment, and rarely on a sudden-death test, together with personal preference) is NOT the same as selecting at 10/11. This thread is about selection at 11, so discussing selection at 16 is not relevant.

Yes, grammar schools (indeed, any sixth-form) allow entry at 16 (but only if there is space once they've filled the sixth forms with their own pupils). And academic courses at sixth forms have entry requirements. This is measured by previous attainment not a sudden-death test. The admission criteria for entry into sixth forms must be the same for internal and external places. So if there are no tests for entry into an academic sixth form for pupils already at the school there can be none for those coming from outside (Admission Code 2012).

HYUFD's picture
Sat, 06/12/2014 - 18:19

The thread is about selection and grammars not just selection at 11 (which is mentioned nowhere in the title).

Grammar schools tend to have a number of pupils enter the sixth form and pupils will generally need to have scored higher GCSE results to enter a grammar school sixth form than a comprehensive school sixth form. Some grammar school pupils will also inevitably enter the workplace at 16 or go to a sixth form college which will free up places

Brian's picture
Sat, 06/12/2014 - 19:37

You're going to have to clarify for me why you keep mentioning sixth form admissions to grammar schools. I'm pretty sure that the percentage of people in the poll who consider a grammar school to be a school which is defined by admissions to its sixth form, from outside the school, would be very low indeed.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 07/12/2014 - 14:39

HYUFD - no, the title didn't mention selection. But 'grammars' implies selection - they are selective schools. And if you didn't think grammars meant selection, then the first paragraph made it clear. If you follow the link to the YouGov poll you will see that selection is mentioned. And the last question in the YouGov poll makes explicit reference to secondary education starting with the 11+.

That suggests selection at 11, not 16.

HYUFD's picture
Sat, 06/12/2014 - 18:52

I agree, measurements of other universities should be used too and their different types. In terms of technical education one sensible thing this government has done is to introduce more technical schools along the lines set out by Kenneth Baker

HYUFD's picture
Sun, 07/12/2014 - 00:16

I never said it was defined by admissions to its sixth form, but nonetheless the point I was making was that grammar schools have an entry at 16 as Finland has selective schools with entry at 16

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 07/12/2014 - 14:33

Brian - he'll be saying next that because universities select at 18, then this is an argument for selection at 11.

HYUFD's picture
Sun, 07/12/2014 - 19:30

Janet Downs Facts are facts and what is clear is that pupils on the assisted places scheme tended to be in professional jobs with a higher income.

In fact, contrary to your statement, Sutton Trust research 'which compared the performance of children of similar high ability and similar less advantaged backgrounds attending state schools with those taking an assisted place at an independent school, found that Assisted Place holders gained better qualifications and went to more prestigious universities than those who attended comprehensive schools'

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 11:06

HYUFD - your quote is from earlier surveys as the press release made clear. The report I referred to following Assistant Place holders into their forties and was more up-to-date. The full report (as opposed to a press release) is here.

HYUFD's picture
Sun, 07/12/2014 - 19:33

Janet Downs Indeed, the fact that universities select at 18 is certainly an argument for selection at 16 at least to ensure pupils are well prepared for the academic demands of a university education.

Of course grammars means selection, but that can be at 13 or 16, it does not only have to be at 11 as you seem to suggest. 'Starting at 11' does not mean only at 11

David Barry's picture
Sun, 07/12/2014 - 22:41


Obviously selection can be at any age.

However the survey being discussed referred to entry to Grammer Schools which takes place at eleven, and when the Grammer School system was widespread, the selection test used was referred to as the 11 plus. I remember it well. I sat it myself.

You are starting to give the impression that having lost the original argument you are seeking to move on to different ground where you think you might win...

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 11:12

David - as I pointed out to HYUFD, the YouGov Poll contained a question which explicitly referred to the 11+. Unless the respondents were very thick, I think we can conclude they would have understood 'grammar schools' and 'selection' was somehow connected to the 11+ ie a test which is taken at, er, age 11.

HYUFD's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 14:02

Janet Downs The Report you link to says nothing of the kind. I quote 'The overwhelming majority have continued their upward trajectory in professional and managerial occupations with high levels of earnings. Even our non- graduates are in solidly middle class occupations with a good income. This suggests that they have benefited from a private school premium over and above that associated with educational attainment. Despite a sometimes variable academic record, our respondents considered themselves ‘successful’.

Our respondents reported not only satisfaction but also a fairly strong sense of job security - indicating apparently significant resilience in the face of the current economic climate. Such is their confidence in their future financial security that a significant proportion were anticipating that they would be in a position to take early retirement.'
See p 5

This reinforces the earlier point 'The reports showed that Assisted Place holders did better than state educated respondents at GCSE and A level. It also showed that they gained more places at Oxbridge with lower A level results than their state-schooled counterparts. By their thirties they also earned significantly more than their state-educated colleagues' on p2

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 15:53

HYUFD - I'm not sure you've read the whole report. Yes, you've cherry picked quotes, but you've missed the bit which said 88.7% of respondents put their success down to their own ability, 77.1% to their own hard work and 67.1% to their education. Oddly, the researchers claim the respondents were 'simply wrong'. Claiming the respondents were wrong simply because their opinions didn't fit the researcher's ideas seems rather strange.

The researchers admitted 'The extent to which their progress can be attributed to having received an Assisted Place is difficult to isolate'. But added that the 'relative prosperity of the non-graduates' suggested there 'may be a private school premium'.

Remember that Assisted Places was said to offer a leg up for working class pupils. But the research found 'Assisted Place holders in the sample from working class backgrounds did less well than might be expected'. They also found they were more likely to leave school before the age of 18 than their peers in state schools.

Although Assisted Place holders tended to go to more prestigious unis, they were also more likely to drop out or fail (1 in 10).

And the researchers gave a warning: “It is important to note that in this Report we are assessing the legacy of the Scheme for individuals rather than for the education system as a whole. Many critics of the Scheme have argued that any benefits experienced by Assisted Place holders (and the schools they attended) have been at the expense of neighbouring state-maintained schools and their children… We are not seeking to evaluate these claims here.”

OECD research found that school systems which segregated children at an early age (before upper secondary - age 15/16) tended to do less well overall than systems which didn't select (OECD Education at a Glance 2011). This finding tends to confirm the criticism of the Assisted Place scheme - that such segregation has a negative effect on other schools and their pupils.

HYUFD's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 14:10

David Berry I have not lost the original argument at all, as I pointed out selective areas have above average GCSE attainment, eg Bucks or Trafford, and while there are many grammar schools in the top 100 schools for Oxbridge admission, there is not 1 comprehensive. I as merely pointing out that even supposedly 'comprehensive' Finland , which comes just behind selective Shanghai in the Pisa league tables, is not fully comprehensive at all but selects at 16.

David and Janet Well a plurality of voters support even more grammars selecting at 11, it is likely a majority would support selection at 16

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 16:08

Andreas Schleicher, OECD, has admitted that 25% of the cohort in Shanghai was missing from the PISA tests 2012.

And although Trafford as a local authority has 'above average GCSE attainment', there is a large variation in results. The average is bumped up by the large number of grammars which (obviously) select pupils for their ability to pass GCSEs and the so-called moderns which have very few previously low-ability pupils. But other moderns suffer from having very few high ability pupils and the score in two of them, Lostock College and St Anthony's Catholic College, is so low it is below the Government's 40% benchmark.

In selective Lincolnshire, the county council was so worried many of their 'modern' schools wouldn't reach the proposed 2015 benchmark of 50% that they advised all their schools to become academies. But the existence of secondary moderns is a result of Lincolnshire's selective system.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 16:33

HYUFD - you are being repetitive. You've said there isn't a comprehensive in the top 100 schools for Oxbridge admission but this is because (I've said it before, I think) comprehensive schools teach the whole ability range and are, therefore, likely to have a lower proportion of pupils likely to go to Oxbridge. Grammar schools, on the other hand, select pupils who are likely to go to university. It's a bit like comparing football clubs which choose only the very best players and comparing them with clubs that allow anyone to play. Unsurprisingly, the latter would be unlikely to be in the top 100 clubs from which players enter the Premier League.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 16:35

HYUFD - Selection at 16, as you call it, involves several things missing from selection at 11. First, the 16 year-old has an element of choice. Second, s/he is likely to have a realistic estimation of his/her abilities and attributes to decide post 16 paths. Third, the young person is involved with decisions about his/her future as an equal partner not as a young child having to do what parents want.

Selection at 16 is not arbitrary. Selection at 11 is.

Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 17:52


Actually, it is not really quite so simple as that.

Grammar schools are indeed selective. Let's assume they take the top 20% or 25% of the ability range. That's quite a spread. Oxbridge only recruits from maybe the top 2 or 3 per cent. Those down at the margins, in the 20th percentile say, are irrelevant. It doesn't matter if they are being selected or not.

To take your football analogy - would a team that set the bar for selection low - choosing only those that pass a basic football proficiency test, necessarily end up with vastly more premier league class players? I don't think they necessarily would.

So the question really is - Do Grammar schools attract hugely more top of the ability range (top 3 percentile) students than would be their 'fair share'? If so, why?

I think it will vary according to location. In Kent, most parents with a very able child would almost certainly send them to one of the prestigious grammars.It would make sense. The only reason not to would be political principle. But in London, that wouldn't be the case.

And yet, what is so striking about the stats is how big the grammar school advantage is across the UK: just over 200 grammar schools accounting for around 10% of places at Oxford, while all the UK's comprehensives (??thousands of them) only account for 21%.

And yet again..... as we have been reminded on past grammar school threads...... they aren't in many ways half so academically superior as they're cracked up to be.

HYUFD's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 19:48

Janet Downs So 67%, a majority, still think their education contributed to their success. Of course pupils from lower income working class homes may be more likely to leave education early as their families may need the wage they can bring in. As stated assisted placespupils were more likely to go to prestigious universities.

As for your comments on selection, apart from 'at a glance' statements do you have any detailed evidence to back your claim?

HYUFD's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 20:01

Janet Downs So 75% of the Shanghai cohort was present.

Every local authority will have some schools better than others, but the overall conclusion that selective authorities have above average results across all pupils is clear. This is true for Kent, Trafford, Bucks etc. As for Lincolnshire, the picture is more mixed there true, but NE Lincolnshire has 61% A*-C, above the 59% national average and Lincolnshire as a whole has 62%. There are also no moderns anymore but high schools. Many schools become academies.

On the football analogy, of course if you want to win the premiership you have got to be in the premier league. So if we want more state schools at Oxbridge we need more premier league state schools which do get in the top 100 state schools for Oxbridge entry.

You can also choose not to sit the 11 plus if you do not want to. Parental pressure can also still be an issue at 16 as it is at 11. However, at least you accept that selection at 16 could be OK, I am not a dyed in the wool defender of selection only at 11, as indeed most grammars have an entrance at 16 too as I have mentioned

Brian's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 20:18

' However, at least you accept that selection at 16 could be OK as indeed most grammars have an entrance at 16 too as I have mentioned.'

Why do you keep mentioning that as if it justifies selection (pass or fail remember ... 'at 11 you are an academic failure, you've had an official letter to tell you so')?

Could you point us to any statistics from LAs where there is still selection which show how many failures at 11 subsequently went on to join a grammar school? I can't find any but I guess it's a rather low figure.

HYUFD's picture
Mon, 08/12/2014 - 23:32

Brian You are not a failure, just judged less suited to the highly academic curriculum of a grammar school. You can still study a broad curriculum at a high school with a more vocational emphasis. Indeed, some who learn and build up a trade or a business go on to earn more than those who took a more academic path.

If you are a late developer and do well at GCSE you can always join a grammar school at 16, and even though it is a minority a number of pupils always enter grammar schools in the sixth form.

Barry Interesting comments

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/12/2014 - 08:04

HYUFD - where to start? On school performance tables, Trafford defines all its non-grammars as 'modern'. Some Lincolnshire, Kent, Buckinghamshire schools are also described as 'modern'. And the non-selective ones can end up with a secondary modern intake ie skewed to the bottom end.

The overall results for a county hide the wide spread of attainment. For example, the worst performing schools in terms of GCSE results in the whole of the South East tend to be in selective Kent. And the worst-performing schools in the North West are, again, schools in or near selective LAs.

Academies can be selective if they converted from existing grammar schools. 12 of Trafford's 18 secondary schools are now academies - that includes all but one of the grammars.

You don't seem to have got my football analogy. The point was that it's rather silly to expect clubs which have players from the whole ability range to produce as many players for the Premier League than football clubs which select players on their superior ability.

I have no objection to pupils choosing different routes at 16. But as I said, it's not necessarily 'selection' in the same way as selection at 10/11 is (re-read my comment above). Academic courses at 16+ need to have 'academic entry criteria'. But such criteria are not needed at 11 as comprehensive schools teach towards the same exams as grammars (ie follow the same syllabus).

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/12/2014 - 08:07

Barry - and it's also the case that good results at a grammar (indeed any high-performing school) can mask poor teaching. Two grammar schools have been judged Inadequate in recent years. One of them was in much-praised Trafford.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/12/2014 - 08:13

HYUFD - re Shanghai. The OECD has strict sampling criteria. Anything less than about 80% coverage is regarded as unsound because it may not be representative. The results for the UK in the year 2000 were found to be flawed for just this reason.

The suspicion is, of course, that if a large proportion (and 25% is a large proportion) is missing from PISA tests, the missing contingent might be those pupils whose results would reduce the region's score. This is what some people suspect has happened in Shanghai. As I said, the OECD has admitted more than 25% of the Shanghai cohort was missing. In that case, I think the Shanghai results should be declared faulty in the same way the UK results were found to be unreliable in 2000.

HYUFD's picture
Tue, 09/12/2014 - 13:21

Janet Downs I have lived in Kent and not one non-grammar was called a secondary modern, they were either high schools, church schools or academies.

Your comments on the worst performing schools are also wrong. All of the 9 worst performing local authorities, Nottingham, the Isle of Wight, Knowsley, Blackpool with A* to C results under 50% in the link I gave you earlier are comprehensive.

Academies can be formed from any type of school, true, but that does not mean any are called secondary moderns.

The football analogy point is that if we want more pupils/players to play in the Premier Leagure then they need to go to Premier League schools/clubs in order to do so.

Selection at 11 or 16 is still based on academic results, and of course pupils in comprehensives will still be doing the same A Levels in some cases as those in grammars

Of course a few grammars will be inadequate, just as some comprehensives will be judged inadequate, whatever type of school you have there will always be some better than others, but that is not an argument for not having different types of school.

Pure speculation on your part on Shanghai, 75% coverage is good enough and in a country of over a billion people it will inevitably be very difficult to get a 100% representative sample surveyed

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/12/2014 - 14:19

HYUFD - re schools described as 'modern'. I said they were described as 'modern' in the School Performance Tables. These are published by the Department for Education. Schools deemed 'modern' in Kent:

The Abbey School

Astor College

Aylesford School

The Canterbury Academy

Castle Community College

The Charles Dickens School

The Community College, Whitstable

Dartford Science and Technology College

There are more, but I think getting as far as D in the alphabet proves my point.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/12/2014 - 14:44

HYUFD - I'm not sure if you understand how OECD administers PISA tests. It doesn't test every child in a country - that would be unrealistic. The OECD asks for a sample of pupils to be tested and these must be representative ie the whole ability range, both genders, in all types of schools in the country (eg selective, non-selective, private, state etc). The OECD then expect a particular response rate for the sample. In 2009 this was set at 85% for school response. If the response rate was less than 85% but more than 65% then the OECD might allow replacement schools to be entered. The student response rate was set at 80%.

See pages 60/61 here.

In 2000, as I've already said, the UK sample was later found not to meet requirements and the results were redacted. See footnote 1 here.

As I've also already said, 75% of Shanghai's cohort of 15 yr-olds was missing from Shanghai's sample in 2012. This throws doubt on the reliability of the results.

In 2012, 170 schools in England took part. This was deemed sufficient to work out the performance of English schools as a whole.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/12/2014 - 15:28

HYUFD - headline results aren't everything. It's possible for low-performing schools and schools in low-performing areas to still be judged Good or better. Info about the ones you cited as being low-performers are below:

Knowlsley - near a selective area - this creams off brighter pupils. Very few state secondaries in Knowsley - but available Ofsted reports show 3 are Good and 1 requires improvement.

Isle of Wight - 9 state secondaries - only four have been inspected - only one judged Good. IoW identified as an area with serious weaknesses. Academy sponsorship was viewed as a solution but it doesn't seem to have done what politicians said sponsorship would do. Two of the secondaries are free schools and have only just opened.

Blackpool - only 8 secondary schools with results in 2013 - 6 have available Ofsted reports: 2 Outstanding, 2 Good, 1 Requires Improvement and 1 is Inadequate.

Nottingham - results ranged from 78% down to 30% at an academy sponsored by one of Michael Gove's favourite academy chains, Greenwood Dale (often mentioned favourably in Gove's dispatches). Ofsted blitz last year judged 6 schools (including some academies) to be Inadequate. Of the rest, 2 are Outstanding, 5 are Good (including the one with 30% reaching the benchmark in 2013) and 1 Requires Improvement.

All data from 2013 School Performance Tables here: You can search for LAs and sort according to results, Ofsted etc.

HYUFD's picture
Tue, 09/12/2014 - 19:32

No, they all describe themselves as Community Colleges or Academies, not one calls itself a secondary modern, the Department of Education simply describes their admissions policies as modern.

You said only around 25% of Shanghai's cohort was missing, but whether it was added or not the fact that Chinese economic growth is still leading the world, even with the recent slowdown, and the astonishing maths and science skills of most Chinese pupils shows it would be astonishing if it was not at the top.

Knowsley is not selective, and while 3 comprehensive schools are good, the present average, one requires improvement.

Brian's picture
Tue, 09/12/2014 - 20:19

I'd be interested in the source of your information which shows that most Chinese children have astonishing maths skills. The only reference I can find is to Shanghai's somewhat dubious PISA results.

I did find this is a September 2014 issue of the Financial Times though:

'If Chinese schools are so fabulous, why are a staggering 85 per cent of Chinese parents thinking about sending their children overseas to study, according to a recent HSBC report? And why are more and more mainland parents eager to expatriate their children in time to finish their final years of secondary school overseas when they could just as easily stay at home and win accolades from the OECD?'


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