Support for new grammars falls, latest YouGov poll reveals

Janet Downs's picture

Support for new grammar schools has dropped from 40% in May 2015 to 38% today, according to the latest YouGov poll.    This is far lower than the 'seven in ten' claimed by the Telegraph, Sun and Mail on 6 August.   Rather than support for new grammars going ‘through the roof’, as The Sun claimed, it’s actually slipping.

The proportion wanting to retain existing grammars but allow no new ones remained the same: 17%.  The proportion wanting existing grammars to become comprehensive dropped slightly from 25% last year to 23%.  The number of 'don't knows' rose from 16% in 2015 to 22% today.

35% believed grammar schools were good for social mobility; 27% thought they made no difference; 20% didn’t know and just 19% thought they were bad.

When parents were asked whether they would send their child to an existing grammar if their child passed the 11+, then the overwhelming majority, 67%, said they would.  This is the dilemma that selection presents: at age 11 your child will be publicly judged by the school they attend

In areas where selection still persists, there’s a perception that grammars are the ‘elite’, first-class schools and non-selective schools are second class.   This perception sticks to the pupils – grammar kids,  good; non-grammar kids, not-so-good.  It’s hardly surprising that when secondary-age children are labelled ‘clever’ or ‘not-so-clever’ based on where they go to school that parents would consider accepting a place at the school perceived to be for the ‘bright’.

But a grammar school place is only offered to those who pass the 11+ – and there’s the rub.  In the days when the 11+ was mandatory, fewer than 25% ‘passed’.  75% of pupils, therefore, were judged as failures at age 11.  It was the realisation that children only had a one-in-four chance of attending a supposedly ‘elite’ school that caused parents to lobby for comprehensive education in the late 60s and early 70s: the comprehensive system was deemed to be fairer.

There are those who argue that comprehensive education has failed – that English children would perform better if divided into ‘bright’, ‘not-so-bright’ and ‘dim’ at age 11.  It’s ‘common sense’ , they claim, that each child should attend a school which, it is argued, would better prepare them for their future lives (decided at the end of primary school).  This myth is debunked in our book The Truth about Our Schools: Exposing the Myths, Exploring the Evidence.  There’s a chance to win a copy of our book – see here for details.   But hurry, the offer only lasts one month until 16 September 2016.





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Adrian Elliott's picture
Thu, 18/08/2016 - 12:43

This looks worringly more and more like the Brexit debate, with one side relying on sentiment and unsupported generalisations and dismissing the views of those with experience in and knowledge of education as 'experts': and that side also, of course, having the support of most national newspapers.
I find the large majority who would send their children to grammar schools if they lived in selective areas wholly predictable but crucially were they asked their views on their children going to secondary moderns if they failed the 11+?
I note that the writer who argues in support of selection in the recent TES debate says that a return of grammar schools must not be accompanied by the return of secondary moderns. But calling them high schools or city academies or whatever doesn't change the fact that these are schools which, as everyone will know, will be debarred from educating the most academic 25%. (Obviously, I'm aware that some bright children will not be entered for the exam and the tests themselves are far from perfect but steering the top 25% away from non-grammars is, nevertheless, the whole point of the benighted policy.

So how will the new sec.mods (sorry high schools) in inner cities, which seem to be the target for the policy, manage to attract teachers in shortage subjects?. It's difficult enough now. And what will happen if, as in Kent now, non-grammars schools are disproportionately placed in a category by Ofsted.?
It does look more and more like Brexit: too many unanswered questions and a long, hard and depressing road ahead.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 19/08/2016 - 08:46

Adrian - it's the same in Lincolnshire.  Non-selective schools are far more likely to be Requires Improvement or worse while all but one grammars (some of which haven't been inspected since 2007/8) are deemed Good or Better.   Boston Grammar was judged Requires Improvement in February but that's rare - as long as grammars keep their GCSE results above 85% or so, then inspectors won't be bothering them.  As grammars (obviously) select those most likely to reach the GCSE benchmark, it's not difficult for them to show good results even if teaching is poor.  When Stretford Grammar, Trafford, was judged Inadequate in 2009, the Daily Mail couldn't accept that a school with 96% reaching the benchmark could be failing pupils - results alone are what matters, apparently.

This gives grammars a structural advantage over non-selective schools in the same area - the latter, having been creamed of high-ability pupils, are then judged on their results.  They must be poor, mustn't they, if they can't reach the national figure of GCSE passes?  And it follows that these 'poor' schools will have 'poor' teachers.  This, as you rightly say, puts teachers off from teaching in them.  

Lamiastrum's picture
Mon, 05/09/2016 - 17:59

Many years ago I worked in a northern L.E.A. as a head teacher of a comprehensive school.  The L.E.A. would test the 10 year olds using N.F.E.R. Maths, English and non-verbal reasoning tests. They were expensive but properly constructed tests professionally produced.

When it became compulsory to publish GCSE results for all secondary schools it dawned on the L.E.A. that they had an excellent source of intake ability measures at 11 years old and publicly available outcome measures at 16 (GCSEs).  This was before SATS had been visited upon us. The two were put together in an attempt to see how the secondary schools coped with their various intakes.

It was expected that there would be a scatter of results when intake measure were plotted against outcomes with the underperforming schools significantly below the mean line and those schools performing well significantly above it.

The intake measures showed that there was quite a range of ability distributions in the schools with some comprehensives effectively selecting a more able intake due to the well-known post code effect and others in “down town” areas with a much higher concentration of children from materially poorer backgrounds with poor test scores and with a higher number receiving free school meals.

The result?  The well-thought-of schools with the “best” exam results were actually doing no better than their intake suggested they should. The “poor” schools some of which had single percentage figures for 5 GCEs at C or above were also doing no better or worse than their intake suggested they should.  There were no significant outliers and the data was used over sixty secondary schools and for three cohorts. So when people ask me what the three most important qualities to create a successful school, I usually reply “intake, intake and intake”. 

The intake for a new “grammar school system” would of course be academic because of selection at 11 and so would likely enjoy excellent exam results at 16 and 18. Whether these would be as good as they should be is rarely asked but the parents of those children, now in a majority, who would attend the new secondary moderns (or whatever name disguise you want) would probably tread the same path as those in the 60s and rebel against the denial of opportunity to the majority which such a system inevitably produces.

The sniggering from the direction of Finland would be audible as they continued with their internationally recognised excellent comprehensive system from 7 until 16 with their well-trained and well respected teachers continuing to outperform grammar school Britain.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/09/2016 - 11:17

In August 2011, the Institute for Fiscal Studies produced a report which stated the obvious: school intake governs academic achievement.  This was ignored.  Instead, Gove and others promoted the fiction that all pupils could achieve the 'expected' standard if they had good teachers.   But there will always be a full range of ability when measured against an average.  Schools which manage to select high ability pupils (overtly via 11+ or covertly re admission arrangements or catchment area) will obviously produce higher results than schools which have an intake skewed to the average or below-average ability range.  These high-achieving schools aren't necessarily providing a better education (although they do stand a better chance of being judged outstanding than a low-achieving school with an intake skewed towards the bottom end simply because inspectors are dazzled by results).  The unintended consequence of this is that such low-achieving schools could struggle to attract staff, particularly senior ones.   

Mark Watson's picture
Tue, 20/09/2016 - 15:43

Whoo hooo

An "article" which ends up recommending people buy a book written by .... wait for it ..... the person who wrote the article.

Seems like a pretty clear cut case of conflict-of-interest to me.

Mark Watson's picture
Tue, 20/09/2016 - 15:55

One other point, the headline trumpets in bold text that support for new grammar schools has dropped by 2%. However those against grammar schools has also dropped by 2% - funny how that didn't make it into the main title. Given that their has been no real change in terms of those for and against this whole piece seems a little manufactured.

Also, just because I know you're not really that hot on getting things right, I thought I ought to point out that your references to the percentages in 2015 are wrong. You refer to 40%, 17%, 25% and 16%. That comes to a total of 98% - what happened to the others? Given this whole piece is based on numbers and the changes between 2015 and 2016 I would think it important to quote the right numbers ...

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