Fewer than half polled want ban on selection removed but papers claim 'seven in ten' in favour

Janet Downs's picture

The PM is set to reintroduce selection, trumpet the Mail, Sun and Telegraph this morning.  She’s going to announce a reintroduction of grammar schools, perhaps by allowing new grammars to be built or for existing free schools and academies to introduce selection, they boom.

The Telegraph’s published an OBR poll which it claims showed ‘Around seven in 10 Britons want to see the ban lifted.’   But that’s not quite true.   The poll, which isn’t publicly available on OBR’s website, found 49% wanted to see the ban on selection ended.   23% did not and 28% were undecided.   The article’s penultimate paragraph, far down the page, admits the ‘around seven in 10’ figure (68%) ‘discounted’ the undecided.

Nevertheless, the ‘seven in 10’ figure is spouted by the Mail citing ‘a recent poll’ and the Sun claiming ‘Public support for the reintroduction of grammar schools is through the roof’.  Neither tell their readers the ‘seven in 10’ had been inflated by ignoring the 28% who didn’t know.

A YouGov poll for The Times (May 2015) tells a different story.  40% supported new grammars; 17% voted to keep existing ones but allow no more; 25% wanted selection scrapped and 16% were not sure.   Support for grammars was highest among those aged over 60: 54% wanted new grammars.  Support declines steadily through the age groups to just 30% among 18-24 year olds.

Whether the Prime Minister will really announce more grammars remains to be seen.  Perhaps she’ll look at the evidence and find grammars aren’t the engines of social mobility their supporters claim.   They take very few disadvantaged pupils and international data shows the earlier selection occurs, the greater the effect of socio-economic background on results.  Education’s role in social mobility is in any case limited although it’s an article of faith that education alone pushes people up the social ladder.

Being a grammar school isn’t automatically a sign the school offers a good, balanced education.  Two grammar schools were judged Inadequate: Stretford Grammar in 2009 and Chatham Grammar School for Boys in 2013.  Both are now Good but Boston Grammar School was judged to Require Improvement in February 2016.

Many grammars have not been inspected for years.  In Lincolnshire, one Outstanding grammar was last inspected in March 2007, four in 2008 and one in 2009.  All bar one are now academies – in theory these schools have not yet been inspected.  But their old Ofsted judgements appear in Department for Education School Performance Tables as if they’re current.   The DfE is inconsistent, however.  The King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth, which became an academy in September 2015, is listed as ‘no Ofsted assessment published’.  If DfE data is to be reliable, all academies should either be labelled ‘no Ofsted assessment’ until they are inspected as academies or the Ofsted judgement for predecessor schools should stand.  As it is, the DfE data for academies is a mishmash of ‘no Ofsted assessment’ and judgements, often years old, for predecessor schools.

As the calls from certain quarters, the right wing press and a few Tory MPs, to bring back grammars become more strident, it’s perhaps time to look again at Henry Stewart’s ‘Eleven grammar school myths’.  Perhaps the Prime Minister should read it and not be persuaded by misleading data in newspapers.




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Phil Taylor's picture
Sun, 07/08/2016 - 12:58

Thanks for this Janet. I wonder if anyone has done a poll to see the percentage in favour of an expansion in the number of secondary modern schools?

Nigel Ford's picture
Sun, 07/08/2016 - 14:11

Peter Hitchens, a massive fan of selective education and private schools, used to be on Theresa May's case because she emphasised her educational credentials as an alumnus of Wheatley Park comprehensive school ( in Dod's Parliamentary Companion), rather than Holton Park grammar, the school that was displaced by Wheatley Park while May was a pupil at the grammar.

What got Hitchen's goat was that May tried to conceal her grammar school background and promote a more egalitarian image. I have no problem with May highlighting her comprehensive education, and unlike Hitchens, don't believe she was being deceptive.

So, in that case why is the PM now undertaking a volte-face by undermining the comprehensive principle, by extending the grammar school programme, when she seemed more proud of her comprehensive than grammar school roots?

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