‘…polls consistently prove public opinion supports the expansion of grammar schools.’
So said Iain Mansfield in his article outlining his controversial views on the impact of selection on access to elite universities.
Mansfield cited two 2015 YouGov polls. One found 53% would support the reintroduction of grammar schools. The second framed the question differently. It reminded respondents that three-quarters of pupils would attend secondary moderns if selection was reintroduced. Support for bringing back selection dropped to 47%.
Other polls have taken place since then. A 2016 YouGov poll, unmentioned by Mansfield, found support for new grammars was 34%. 20% would allow existing grammars to remain but didn’t support new ones. 25% wanted selection to end while 22% weren’t sure.
YouGov repeated the poll in May 2018. Again, this was not mentioned by Mansfield. Just 30% agreed the government should encourage more academic selection and build more grammars. The proportion allowing existing grammars to continue but didn’t agree with building more was still 20%. 26% opposed all selection while 24% were unsure.
These two YouGov polls suggest support for building new grammars is falling.
But what of other polls? Mansfield cited BMG research from 2016 which showed 39% of adults supported Theresa May’s call for new grammars. 38% neither supported nor opposed while 23% disagreed.
When BMG asked respondents whether they would support May’s proposal if the change ensured more disadvantaged children could enter ‘top-performing schools’, support for May’s plan rose to 48% while those opposing dropped to 17%. 36% were unsure.
Rather than showing consistent support for reintroducing selection, the BMG poll found uncertainty.
Mansfield cited two further polls: one from the Sunday Times (link broken) and the other a NatCen report (link broken) with tables. Mansfield used NatCen to claim more than twice as many manual workers and non-workers supported May’s idea than opposed it. But NatCen didn’t ask respondents about their employment so it's unclear where Mansfield's claim comes from.
Rather than supporting more grammar schools, NatCen showed the public was split, indeed confused. 53% supported expanding grammar schools but, conversely, 61% of the same respondents opposed selection. NatCen thought the discrepancy might be caused by the public seeing grammars as an engine of social mobility.
An interesting finding by NatCen, which Mansfield didn’t mention, was that the public didn’t think grammars provided the most important characteristics of a ‘good school’. 84% of respondents believed it was ‘very important’ schools helped pupils become ‘confident and self-assured adults.’ Just 30% thought sending a ‘high proportion’ to university was very important.
Rather than viewing schools as preparing a select few for elite universities, it appears the public would prefer to see all pupils leaving school with confidence and self-assurance. This aim is undermined when going to a top university, especially Oxbridge, is presented as the only fruit.