No reason for grammars to exist, says second report criticising selection in just a few days

Janet Downs's picture

Selective schools put social cohesion at risk ‘for no clear improvement in overall results’.  That’s the conclusion of Durham University academics in the second report* questioning the grammar school ‘advantage’ in a few days.   

The report confirms what’s been known for years: school intake governs academic achievement.   This might seem blindingly obvious but supporters of selection ignore it when they hype the ‘success’ of grammar schools and selective fee-paying ones.

The two recent reports add to the ever-growing bank of evidence showing selection, particularly at an early age, does no favours to an education system as a whole.  It may (and I repeat ‘may’) confer some advantage on those selected but has a negative effect on the majority who aren’t.   

Last year, the Department for Education consulted on its ideas for increasing selection.  The consultation was one-sided, did not allow dissent and allowed bogus responses.   Twice the UK Statistics Watchdog had to intervene: first when the DfE issued a misleading tweet and second when the DfE was forced to issue a ‘clarification’ just three days before the consultation ended.    The results of this consultation have not yet been published. 

The Durham researchers were unequivocal in their condemnation of selection: ‘The policy is a bad one’.  They hope their report and numerous others will provide an ‘evidence-informed way forward’ towards phasing out the remaining grammar schools.

There is, however, no sign that selection will be dropped.  The Prime Minister and education secretary Damian Hinds are in favour.  And grammars are increasing their Pupil Admission Numbers (PANs).  This expansion, the BBC found, was ‘outpacing the growth in the number of 11-15 year olds in most local authorities’.     The increase in selective school places results in grammars throwing their nets wider and drawing in more high-achieving pupils from a larger area.  And selection, as we know from official data, has a negative effect on pupils not chosen. 

The Durham researchers said the call to phase out grammars was not to ‘decry the schools that are currently grammars, or the work of their staff’.   But as grammars are ‘simply no better or worse’ than other school types when ‘their selected and privileged intake’ was taken into account, ‘there is no reason for them to exist’.


One of the most-viewed LSN posts is ‘Eleven grammar school myths’, by my colleague Henry Stewart.  It is here

*A summary of the first report claiming there are genetically-influenced factors in selection is here.    The authors included ‘environment’ as one of the genetically-influenced factors.  I'm unconvinced.  Surely evironment is more ‘nurture’ than ‘nature’?  And environment is also economically-influenced.   Nevertheless, it makes the point that selection doesn’t actually give an advantage when measured by GCSE results in English, maths and science after pupil background is accounted for.

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