DfE uses flawed data used to support grammar school popularity claim

Janet Downs's picture

Grammar schools are also popular with parents, with around 15 pupils choosing a selective school as their first preference for every 10 selective places offered.’

Department for Education Press release: 11 February 2019

Does the data back up the claim?

The answer is Yes, according to DfE document published on 1 October 2016.

But there’s a flaw in the data which undermines the claim’s accuracy.

The number of first preference applications to selective schools includes applications from parents of ineligible children - those who failed the 11+ test. 

We do not know how many of the first preference applications were for ineligible children.  I asked the DfE but was told it did not collect this data.

In July 2017, Joanne Bartley asked the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) to look at the DfE's figures.  UKSA said it believed first preference data was ‘a reasonable proxy measure for demand for selective schools’ but data users should be given further information about ‘eligibility status’ to aid interpretation. 

In response, the DfE amended the document by adding a disingenuous footnote saying:

It is possible that a number of applications for selective schools will relate to pupils who have not passed the 11 plus tests’

It is not a possibility that some grammar school applications are for ineligible children.  It is a known fact.   

In Lincolnshire*, for example, the local authority says parents whose child doesn’t pass the 11+ can still name a selective school among preferences.  It recommends parents name a non-selective school as first preference but it isn’t mandatory to do so.  Parents who wish to keep their right of appeal MUST name their preferred grammar school on their application forms.

It is inevitable, then, that there will be applications for ineligible pupils among first choices for grammar schools.    

Preference data for selective schools is inflated by applications for ineligible pupils.  But the DfE and ministers use this inflated figure to promote its policy towards selective schools.

UKSA said it would discuss with the DfE ‘the value in doing further work to understand the proportion of first choice applicants who have not passed the 11-plus’.  It’s not known what progress the DfE has made towards doing this further work so I’ve sent a Freedom of Information request. 


*Download Lincolnshire Schools Admission Guide here

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