Selective schools, Theresa May believes, are the best way to lift disadvantaged high-achieving pupils out of poverty. Those who oppose selection point out it may benefit the chosen few but has a negative effect on the unselected majority.
Department for Education (DfE) data backs this up. Non-selective schools in selective areas perform worse than all other types of secondary school. Their average Attainment 8 score (42.1) is the lowest while average Progress 8 score (-0.14) is ‘statistically below the national average’.
Non-selective schools in non-selective areas (aka comprehensive) schools had an average Attainment 8 score of 46.5 and Progress 8 was at the national average. This shows that on average pupils in comprehensive schools made the progress expected based on achievement at the end of primary school (Key Stage 2 or KS2).
Selective schools achieved the highest Attainment 8 score (69.3) while Progress 8 was ‘statistically significantly above the national average’.
DfE number-crunchers say ‘the difference in attainment can be explained by the prior attainment of each school type.’ As would be expected, the vast majority of grammar school pupils had better than expected level of attainment at the end of primary school. In comprehensive areas, 41% of pupils had above-average prior attainment. In selective areas just 30.3% of pupils in non-selective schools were high achievers at the end of KS2.
Non-selective schools in selective areas also had the highest proportion (15.9%) of pupils who achieved below the KS2 expected level. This contrasts with 13% in comprehensive schools. And none, of course, in selective schools.
The data shows that pupils who achieved above the expected KS2 level achieved better results at grammar schools than equally high-achieving pupils in non-selective schools in their areas. Grammar pupils on average also did better than previous high achievers at comprehensive schools in comprehensive areas.
This is likely to be seized upon by grammar school supporters as proof that selection is necessary. But it should not be forgotten that this higher than average attainment by a minority of specially chosen children is offset by a below average attainment of the majority who are not chosen.
Official data shows that in areas where schools are fully comprehensive ALL pupils are on average likely to make the progress expected of them based on prior achievement. Their average attainment at age 16 may be lower than if they were in grammar schools but we have to ask ourselves if this matters in the long run. Sutton Trust research*, remember, found that students from comprehensive school outperformed their equally-qualified peers from both independent and grammar schools in degrees from the most academically selective universities.
If May truly supports opportunity for all, then she should dump her misguided attachment to grammar schools. They might work for the few, but they don’t work for the many.
*The research was done in 2009. It’s now getting rather out-of-date. Perhaps the Sutton Trust could find out whether this finding still holds.