Access to grammar schools shows they can't be part of a fair school system

Fiona Millar's picture
There is some damning data here in a parliamentary answer to Labour MP Bill Esterson which shows how many pupils in Year 7 last year were in grammar schools and how many of those were eligible for FSM, had statements of SEN, were looked after or came from a black ethnic group.

Judging by these figures, anybody still clinging to the notion that selective schools provide ladders up for poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged children will have their work cut out defending their position.

While around 4 per cent of the Year 7 population was in a grammar school in 2010, only 0.6 per cent of pupils eligible for Free School Meals  and with statements of SEN were admitted, 0.4 per cent of looked after 11 year olds were and 2.3 % of pupils from a black ethnic group. The entire grammar school sector appears to have admitted only 70 pupils with statements last year,

The fact that the proportion of pupils in any of these groups is running so far behind the  national figure show clearly that selective tests at 11, accompanied by a booming and expensive private tuition industry, are discriminatory and should fall foul of any equality legislation.

The Tories like to proclaim  their commitment to opening up access to all schools, especially those that are oversubscribed and perform well in league tables, to children from poorer backgrounds. Hard to see how they can deliver on that while maintaining their commitment to the existing use of the 11 plus in over a quarter of all education authorities.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Alan's picture
Fri, 06/05/2011 - 12:22

Fiona – thank you for highlighting these points. Selection by 11+ is a big problem for young people on the east coast of Lincolnshire because grammar school is the primary source of academic sixth form. There are no concrete arrangements for students from alternative schools to transfer at 16 even if they reach the required grade.

'Narrowing the Gap in Deprived Areas of Lincolnshire' provides an accurate overview of our situation in Mablethorpe
However, the council have omitted data on selection and the underrepresentation of children on FSM in the nearby grammar school - in 2007, Ofsted reported it was well below average.

In terms of performance for 5 A*-C grades including maths and English, Lincolnshire are in the top quartile nationally because grammar schools are creaming off the top 25% of students. There is no regard for those children who don’t pass the 11+ (48% 2011) - they have to fend for themselves, which will now be more difficult considering the council are doubling bus fares for post-16s to sixth form and college from September.

‘Children and Young People’s Views on Educational Policy’ is a recent survey of over 2,000 children between the age of 9 and 16. It highlights a need for more information on the efficacy and fairness of selective school admissions, particularly at 10/11-years-of-age.

Further reading on issues affecting young people in Lincolnshire

‘Deprived youngsters in Lincolnshire fare worse at school than those in London’

‘Annual travel costs for students will now double within two years after council vote’

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 06/05/2011 - 16:45

The data shows how the 11+ is really about social segregation; I think this government is perfectly happy to encourage this in a "covert" form, giving these schools the ability to "cherry-pick" the FSM pupils who are high achieving in order to boost funding with the pupil premium.

Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 06/05/2011 - 18:48

Access to 11+ is skewed by 2 important factors:

1 Not universal coverage in UK so middle class migrate to the areas that have them. This is a social factor that is not an inherent flaw of 11+ rather lack of provision to people who want it.

2 Not enough state primaries teach children well enough to do well in 11+, including preparation. There is no need for private tuition if teachers do their job at primary

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 06/05/2011 - 20:58

How do you account for the fully selective areas like Kent where there is blanket coverage of grammar schools and the grammars are still full of the better off children while the secondary moderns have disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged pupils, with SEN. I am afraid your theory doesn't stack up.

M Creed's picture
Fri, 06/05/2011 - 21:31

Teachers don't teach primary pupils to pass 11+ tests, so teachers doing, or not doing, their jobs is irrelevant to the issue.

Each county that still tests at 11+ has its own method of testing.

In Bucks the 11+ is Verbal Reasoning only; no preparation is even allowed in state schools, apart from one familiarisation paper, and two sample papers. There would be no time in an already overburdened NC to include lessons in VR anyway.

Preparation, whether by private tutoring or by parents themselves, is rife, and seriously distorts the results. The intake in grammar schools in Bucks is increasing in breadth of ability because the pupils who succeed in the tests are not necessarily the most academically able.

They are certainly among the most financially able, however.

Annette Pryce's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 15:18

Well its noce to see someone acknowledging the fact that buckinghamshire is a selective system. I wonder why it gets ignored.. tory heartland perhaps ? the 11+ test changed recently, but some grammars still have a higher pass rate. and they are nearly all academies, it's onyl goodwillt hats stopping them setting their tests in competition with each other.

and yes the parents are rich and can coach them through it, despite the now apparent inability ot coach for it. Thosewho are coached into grammars suffer in the logn run as they sit at the bottom of a pile of a competitive culture.

Annette Pryce's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 15:19

apologies for typos..

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 08:41

Sorry Creed these are the kind of teachers we don't need. If they can't assess the potential of a child for 11+ tuition and provide adequate preparation they are not competent. I take your point about the busy workload. Would be nice to see some local authorities step up to the challenge on that one and think about how to support their lower class, intelligent, poorer children. If they can't do it then someone else should get a chance like a free school if parents demand it. If they don't want it that's also fair enough. It's a democratic system we run here.

Alan's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 11:01

The 11+ was created based on the premise that it could trap innate ability. Teacher competence to prepare students should be irrelevant. The whole point is was to control the effects of unequal opportunity created by variance in primary education which is often associated with social background.

The effects of coaching, as opposed to familiarisation / practice, are significant 3 hours prior to taking the test and more so over a period of 9 months (B Bunting & Mooney 2001).

Teacher competence to prepare students for selection and ability to pay for sustained coaching can be associated with the standard of education and social status so undermine the principles of selection by 11+. For this, and for reasons previously stated, there should be renewed debate on the abolition of selection set aside from the continuation of grammar schools.

B Bunting & Mooney, E., 2001. The Effects of Practice and Coaching on Test Results for Educational Selection at Eleven Years of Age. Educational Psychology, 21(3).

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 13:23

Ben Taylor's crude assessment of teachers is typical of what is happening in America, where Charter schools are pitted against public schools to show that competitiveness can raise standards. Well they don't. the Stanford CREDO research showed that Charter Schools have not outperformed traditional schools and have done little raise the standards of education for the disadvantaged.

What they have done is to lead to teacher burn-out and to a widespread obssession with testing, results and tables. Not necessarily to measure student progress, which is what tests should be about, but teachers and schools, without taking into account sociological, demographic or geographic reasons as well. Punishing teachers is not the solution Ben.

The attempt to divide up education between the "worthy" and the "bad" has not led to a wholesale raise in standards in America but the government here and free school advocators like Ben here seem happy to trample over evidence in their haste to see a solution only in incubating an elite few in a narrow educational sysytem. What do the rest do? The ones who mature academically later, the ones whose school challenges are not intrinsically academic, but stems from neglect, family, problems, poverty, lack of support? Schools can and should be integrating their needs into their vision. Charter Schools in America have been known to exclude children who don't keep up. It is a question of time before we see free schools here dropping all pretence of inclusion and they will do the same.

Democracy is a human right. As is education for everyone of all abilities. Please don't invoke democracy as a way of arguing for segregation.

Andy Smithers's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 13:54

For 13 years we had a Labour Government who did nothing to change Grammer schools.
The reason is plain to see.
Most parents support grammar schools and the excellent education they provide to the thousands of tax payers who are lucky enough to have access to them.
Are any grammar schools undersubscribed? No. Parents want them.
Any Labour MP who now comes out and attempts to point a finger at the Tories about this issue should be embarrassed.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 14:02

Do parents want secondary moderns though? No.

Annette Pryce's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 15:21

Actually in Bucks lots of parents choose the secondary modern, due to their excellent SEN provision and pastoral care......

Alan's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 14:49

“For 13 years we had a Labour Government who did nothing to change Grammer schools.
The reason is plain to see.”

Exactly. The Labour Party is not unique though and neither are parents nor newly elected councillors nor members of scrutiny committees in County Hall who have grammar school members. Try writing to any MP and you’re lucky to get a one-liner on selective education.

Not too far away from where I live a Labour candidate was intransigent that she would not address selection on the east coast, despite campaigning against academies, because the time was not right. It never is. Too many have benefitted from a grammar school education or want their kids to or see no alternative should the up-and-coming system fail so ‘options’ have to remain open and so does the gap.

M Creed's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 16:26

Ben, I don't understand what you mean about "these are the kind of teachers we don't need"? I didn't suggest that teachers "can't assess the potential of a child" nor that they aren't capable of providing "adequate preparation" - but I did say it isn't part of their job to prepare for the test. Verbal Reasoning is not part of the curriculum. Do you mean that in counties where there is selection at 11+, primary schools should ignore the prescribed curriculum and teach only to the test? Or perhaps just ignore parts of the curriculum? Which parts?

So in Bucks they would prepare for VR, and in other counties VR and NVR, and in others preparation would be for whatever test was used in that area? That doesn't make any sense to me, particularly in that all the pupils who subsequently failed the test would have wasted time on 11+ preparation that would have been better spent on literacy, numeracy and the rest of the curriculum.

I wasn't even commenting on the workload (which is considerable, but a different issue entirely).

Neal Skipper's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 19:56

Bucks CC looked into their test a few years ago and concluded that; "The current research evidence would suggest that unless you can ensure equal effectiveness or access to coaching, then you cannot make assumptions about ability based on the verbal reasoning tests". As pointed out above, state primary schools in Bucks are forbidden from coaching their pupils beyond a minimal amount of familiarisation. The report is viewable at:

A number of the Bucks Grammar Schools track 11+ score vs subsequent GCSE/A-level points, and have found that there is no correlation at all between the two (they even tell new parents that this is the case, and show them the data to prove it!). This is completely in line with the conclusions of the County's study.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 21:36

Well I know state primary schools where recently children have been given assistance in preparing for 11+ by state school teachers in from same schools. I am pretty sure verbal reasoning would be part of the assessment in that 11+ catchment. Perhaps it can be defined as a literacy skill?

It should be possible to create a system to support children to get ready for these tests in all circumstances. From what teachers tell me there is plenty of rubbish in the NC that could be omitted to create time for assistance with this matter. All children could get prepared so that the test is more objective.

Let's talk about the social segregation of non grammar state schools like too many comprehensives, which means that you have dominance of public educated people in society, thanks to underperforming state sector.

I am able to see that comprehensives can sometimes produce results across all abilities but let's allow communities and families to decide these things. If they don't want selection OK, if they do want it also OK. Might be something for communities to reflect on which see middle classes fleeing to where grammars still exist.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Sun, 08/05/2011 - 13:50

On Tuesday 3rd May, the Guardian published "The Children's Manifesto", compiled from hundred's of young people's letters, emails, poems, essays and pictures on the theme of "The School I'd Like." The manifesto was edited by a team of 10 children.

Interesting that, according to their manifesto, children want an 'inclusive' school "with pupils of all achievement, ability and background learning together." They also want their perfect school to be 'international' "with food from all over the world on the dinner menu and pupils from all over the world in the classroom; with opportunities to go abroad to learn languages and about other cultures."

In their accompanying commentary, the Guardian states that the older the children "the more they wanted to bring an end to same-sex schools, streaming and segregation".

Jessica Stewart, 18, from Berwick-upon-Tweed is quoted as saying, "An ideal school is inclusive of everyone. I think that's important in the modern world we live in."

And the children also ask us adults to listen to them and to treat their ideas and views with respect.

Alan's picture
Sun, 08/05/2011 - 13:55

Most know that some primary schools spend considerable time on ‘preparing’ students for the 11-plus – they sing their success rates from school publications whilst teaching equality and respect. The overall effect of this mode of delivery on learning and on the classroom dynamic is less apparent.

Children don’t need tests to determine whether they are unsuitable for a particular school at 10 or 11 -- read the literature on child development -- nor should we prepare them for such tests. Segregation at such a young age is a blatant waste of talent - we are squandering youth in the name of academic supremacy.

We need to prevent schools from breaking the Admission Code and there should be renewed consultation, from an evidence-based perspective, to prevent circumvention of existing legislation on selective school admissions (too many arguments are based on generic principles rather than local issues created by selection).

Children should have a choice on selection. The Children’s Commissioner has already consulted with over 2000 young people on educational policy and the results point to confusion on selection, which is no surprise, given the breadth of views and pressure from adults.

Parental ballots to determine the future of grammar schools were overly complex and flawed for many reasons. The fundamental oversight was that there was no differentiation between the educative system that should be available to every child and the abolition of selection. For and against extremes to this argument have done children no favours.

Alan's picture
Sun, 08/05/2011 - 15:56

The Children’s Manifesto brings to mind a poem by W.B Yates

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Children spread their dreams at out feet, best we take care not to destroy them.

Andy Smithers's picture
Sun, 08/05/2011 - 17:23

Children in charge of their education?

We are the adults, so wise up.
By all means listen to children but guess what ? They do not know best about how they should be educated.

Grammar schools are generally excellent. No government will ever abolish them so stop wasting your time.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/05/2011 - 08:23

Bit late in the day to comment, but grammar schools can fail (even when the exam results are good). See this Ofsted report:

Schools who select high-ability children would be expected to get high exam results. But this doesn't mean they're necessarily good schools as the above shows. Also, as I keep repeating endlessly, OECD has found that selection does not increase a country's educational attainment overall but does impact severely on the disadvantaged.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 08/05/2011 - 19:03

No one here is suggesting that children should be charge of their own education, only that their opinions should be heard and taken into consideration. I should think a great many of them have a lot of interesting ideas to impart and it is this dialogue between children and adults/teachers which inspire children to learn and feel engaged.

What they don't respond to is hectoring, bullying and being shouted down by someone who thinks they know best. Whole countries have been and are being brought down by people who are weary of being oppressed.

Georgina's post above shows that children want an ‘inclusive’ school “with pupils of all achievement, ability and background learning together.” I should think this is because they know it is intrinsically wrong in a society to divide and rule. If only some adults would wise up and stop wasting my time

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Sun, 08/05/2011 - 22:01


Your utter disregard for children and their views makes me angry. Nobody is suggesting that children should be in charge of their education but I believe they are very well placed to know how they would like to be educated, especially when they reach secondary school level. Most children at this level are very serious about what they want to achieve and how best they can achieve it. I'm sorry you see fit to rubbish young people in this way.

As for your comment on grammar schools, I don't think any of the writers on this site have an issue with the quality of grammar school education - although, even you must surely admit that it would be pretty difficult to fail as a school when students are hand picked! The writers' points have focused mostly on a system that is cruel and damaging to a very significant number of children.

I wonder if you have ever been closely involved with admissions to grammar schools? If you haven't then this is briefly how the system goes:

Parents scour the county for a good tutor at least one year before the 11+ exam. Tutors charge, on average, £20.00 to £25.00 an hour. Some children attend classes three times a week, or more, for one year. Then there are all the practice papers that have to be done, often under supervision as they have to be timed - speed is important in the 11+. It is possible for quite an average child to pass with good coaching. However, it is unlikely they will pass without the coaching. Neal Skipper is quite right. To aid this process, children preferrably need a parent with a car who can drive them to all the tuition classes and then come back and supervise the homework.

Quite a significant part of the exam requires knowledge of a wide vocabulary - certainly not available to many multi lingual children and many of the children from the lower economic social groups however brilliant the children are.

If a child just misses the all important 121 minimum score, then the parents have to assemble evidence for the crucial appeals process. Some parents have been known to go to incredible lengths to prepare for this appeal, producing doctors' letters, evidence that the child was not well on the day of the exam, the primary school was no good and on and on. Parents without the requisite skills cannot successfully negotiate this difficult appeals process, which also has a very subjective element to it.

I think, if you read this carefully, you may begin to appreciate that this exam is not perhaps a good vehicle for selecting the truly gifted and talented but, rather, one for those who have been 'coached' at huge expense. And of course this exam cannot begin to gauge potential.

Now let's look at what happens to the often very able children whose parents could not afford to pay for the coaching. They have effectively been tagged, aged 11, as complete failures. Comments such as "Well we can't all be clever, can we?" are frequently made by well meaning friends who misguidedly believe that the 11+ sorts out the wolves from the sheep.

Primary school teachers tell the children that there is no pass or fail - just a mark. But that mark marks children, often for life. The disengagement that can set in, following the failed 11+, affects numerous children who never again believe that they are capable of achieving anything.The tears and heartbreak are gut wrenching for those of us who have to help families pick up the pieces. There is only one way forward - to stop this merry-go-round. This is not a waste of time. Education, like health, is a right for all, not a privilege for a chosen few.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 08/05/2011 - 23:48

The main reason that the poor cannot access grammar schools is that they are not universally provided in the UK. Northern Ireland is your our best comparator;

Higher proportion of children from lower income groups than England entering higher education;
NI outperforms England in GCSE and A level results.

By the way here is Lord Adonis;

“Grammar schools formally opened to all (on merit) by Butler’s Act enabled a proportion of working class children to mix with their similarly able middle class peers. The challenge for the next generation was to widen access to grammar schools. The comprehensive revolution tragically destroyed much of the excellent without improving the rest. Comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price”.

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 08:02

" A proportion of working class children". Well that hasn't changed, and judging by these figures it is negligible.

By the way Northern Ireland not a good example as there is a bigger gap in outcomes from children, along social class lines, than many other PISA countries, as there is in Germany. Twenty per cent of the adult population have no qualifications at all, so not a system that works for all young people.

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 08:25

It is worth looking at this study published in the British Journal of Sociology and using data from the National Child Development Study. It shows clearly that overall selective systems provide no advantage in terms of the social mobility of poor children when compared with comprehensive systems. People seem to forget that grammar schools ( which undoubtedly do well for their pupils) are part of a system that also includes secondary modern schools. Many of these are good schools but are penalised by highly skewed intakes and high proportions of children who have failed the 11 plus test, often aged ten, with the consequences for self esteem that follow. Please take time to read this pamphlet which includes quotes from the head teachers of such schools in selective areas which have to painstakingly re-build the confidence of these pupils. We had far more examples than we could include from primary and secondary heads in selective areas who feel this sort of pressure and competition, which starts from Years 4 and 5 in many primary schools, is a form of child abuse.
A couple of years ago I made a film in Northern Ireland about the effects of the transfer test there. I saw Year Six classes in which, once the tests were over, the children were seated at separate tables - one for the children who had passed, another for the children that had failed. Their paths in lives appeared marked out from that moment.
I have heard all the arguments about life being full of failure, it being an important lesson to learn early etc etc, usually from people who wouldn't countenance that sort of rejection for their own children.
Personally I think 10 is to young for that sort of lesson, children develop at different rates, the private tuition industry skews the test results, and the schools know this, and children aren't born with a fixed quota of intelligence therefore comprehensive systems which, as Adam Swift's study shows, are just as effective at developing young people's talents, should be universally introduced and celebrated as they are in many of the world's most successful countries.

Andy Smithers's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 10:56


you are getting angry about nothing. read my previous post again and you will see your reaction is over the top. I said we should listen to children but that adults know best.

I have children so I also know the process of applying for grammar schools a little bEtter than your description. In our primary school parents are advised on whether to go down the grammar route - a good guide is that if a child is getting level 5s at the end of year 5 they will have a good chance, however it is very competitive so only the really academically gifted do get in.
Agree it's not a perfect test but the fact that their intake on this site is described as taking the cream and highly selective then they must be getting it about right.

What people on this site seem to forget is that education has to cater for the majority of tax payers, the aspirational families and the middle class.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 11:28

Andy -

Adults don't always know best. Why don't you read carefully what Georgina and Fiona have said about the pressures children are put under getting through these tests when they are neither emotionally nor intellectually ready for them.

And aspiration. What aspiration is this pandering to? Not the child's but the parents, in their stampede to ensure that they can boast to their colleagues and neighbours that they are paying the "majority of taxes", that they are climbing up the greasy pole of social acceptance, that they are finally - get the bunting out! - middle class.

I know many people children who were forced into this pressure - exams, endless tutors, constant disapproval of their parents, no relaxation, no joy, no fun. Just a lack of real self esteem. I felt very sorry for the children - some went spectacularly off the rails, others developed such anger towards their parents that they can no longer be in the same room as them, a number became clinically depressed.

Is that all education is about? Academic excellence at the cost of human relationships, family love, compassion? We should aspire for our children to be confident, happy, informed, engaged adults. There is more to life than aspiring to be part of the bourgeoisie. That is parenting gone seriously wrong

Andy Smithers's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 12:59


I actually have children and mix in a circle where most parents are aspirational and hope their children do at least as well as themselves. In fact they want their children to have more opportunity and do even better.
All their children are happy and have great family lives. Sorry if that does not fit with your made up stereo types - how many children really go off the rails because they did not get into grammar schools ?

It is clear that you are anti those who are aspirational for themselves and their children.

Ah well - you stick to campaigning for dumbing things down and I will continue to champion academic excellence for all regardless of background.

It sounds like you are against people doing well for themselves and trying to improve things for their children.

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 13:18

Anyone who supports grammar schools clearly favours systems that serve a small elite well, at the expense of the rest. I note that supporters of grammar schools never really address the facts ; discrimination against poor children, certain ethnic groups, pupils with SEN, is endemic in selective schools and the clear evidence from Adam Swift's study is that selective systems are no better at championing "academic excellence for all" than high performing comprehensive systems.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 13:23

And it is clear, Andy, that you don't read anything properly and are spectacularly blinkered and prejudiced.

Ah well - you stick to championing inequality and mixing in your circles where you care little about anyone or anything unless it's to do with keeping up appearances with your aspirational neighbours. Sounds a bit Huis Clos to me but perhaps it's just a stereo type.

Andy Smithers's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 13:44


It is clear that the Labour Party supports grammar schools. it is clear the Tories support Grammar schools.
Not too sure what the Lib Dems support.
Majority of parents support grammar schools.
Your parents support grammar schools.
So where does that leave us according to your logic.

Allan - rant over? Try and be reasonable, no need to resort to name calling is there.

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 14:08

None of the main parties stood at the last election on a manifesto which promised a return to selection nationwide . That is because they know it would be deeply unpopular with the majority of parents , whose children would end up in secondary moderns.
It it was middle class parents who were at the forefront of the campaign to end selection in the first place. They were fed up with seeing so many of their children branded as failures and put a great deal of pressure on a then Tory Education Secretary top abolish a system which was loathed.
There is no groundswell of support for universal reintroduction of the 11 plus. The only party which included this in its manifesto last time was UKIP.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 14:08

Andy - calm down dear.

6 short lines doth not a rant constitueth. You are getting angry about nothing. No one called you any names. You seem very clear about a lot of things you just assume and know little about. Instead of giving yourself a coronary, I suggest you go and prune your hyacinths on this fine afternoon

Andy Smithers's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 14:28

Trying to follow your logic Fiona.
None of the main parties stood on a manifesto of removing selection either so what is your point.

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 14:30

There is no desire for a widespread return to selection.

Alan's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 15:19

Wake up and smell the coffee. If adults knew best they wouldn’t ridicule a child in front of their peers for missing out by a few points, send them into an empty classroom to stop crying and defend their actions for over 2 years at the expense of aspirations. If a parent did this the outcome would be very different.

Selective education is failing for all of the reasons that have been stated so well on this site, by referring to research and from personal experience – if it wasn’t, its defence would be pointless. I do understand though why bitterness is all too common amongst this elite mindset – times are changing, and for the better.

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 15:20

Nick Seaton: Support grows for more grammar schools

Published on Monday 15 February 2010 21:32

An ICM opinion poll, carried out for the National Grammar Schools Association, produced results that surprised many people.

Asked if they supported the retention of the 232 state-funded grammar schools in England and Northern Ireland as an additional, voluntary choice for parents, 70 per cent of those questioned supported existing grammar schools, while only 19 per cent opposed them with 10 per cent saying they didn't know.

The pollsters also asked if people would support the introduction of some new grammar schools, especially in urban areas where there currently are none: 76 per cent supported the idea.

Support was strong across all age and income groups with a remarkable 85 per cent of 18-to-24 year-olds wanting more grammar schools. This suggests that claims that only the older generation cares about grammar schools are without foundation.

Four years ago, ICM found that 70 per cent would like to see new grammar schools introduced, so support for this idea is growing and not non-existent as our political masters tell us.

So what is going on? Above all, the poll highlights just how out of touch the leaders of the three largest political parties are. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have always been at best ambivalent, at worst totally hostile, to grammar schools. Until David Cameron became leader of the Conservatives, they were largely supportive.

Not now. Mr Cameron and his team claim they support existing grammar schools but refuse seriously to consider any more. They are messianic in their support of academies, but, by definition, these must be comprehensive. So must their proposed "free" schools.

For grammar schools, this means death by 1,000 cuts: Cameron's policy has produced a ratchet effect, whereby existing grammar schools can be disrupted and undermined, but without the possibility of any movement in the opposite direction. Conservative local authorities are often the worst offenders.

Current threats include "federating" grammars with less successful, non-grammar schools; merging grammar and non-selective schools to form a comprehensive academy; and "federating" two single-sex grammar schools to form one co-educational school. Such measures always mean fewer 11-year-olds are offered the opportunity of a grammar school education.

Politicians claim there's no demand for grammar schools and the tests for places are cruel. Really? Don't we specially and separately train promising athletes for the Olympic Games? Should we not apply for a job, for fear we fail to get it?

Two years ago, Kent had 1,232 applicants from outside the county, who freely volunteered to take the 11-plus for a place in one or other of Kent's grammar schools.

Last year, that number had risen to 1,810 – an increase of roughly 50 per cent in two years. Of those 1,810, 924 "passed" the test, but only 268 could be offered places. Despite "passing" the test, the remaining 656 were denied their choice of school.

Two years ago, a Surrey grammar school made headlines when 1,500 children voluntarily turned up to take the 11-plus. Last year, that number had increased to 1,700 with only 130 places on offer.

In the real world – and contrary to what politicians tell us – thousands of families and their children are prepared to make supreme efforts and face frightening odds in the hope of acquiring a superb education within the state system.

Instead of confronting the issue and doing something about it, political leaders have chosen an Orwellian suppression of evidence they find uncomfortable. Like Big Brother, they are trying to expunge grammar schools from the national consciousness.

In 2005, an email to education ministers and senior civil servants was sent by Sir Cyril Taylor, who was then chairman of what is now the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Copies found their way into the public domain and to senior opposition politicians. Most of the content was about internal research in which the brightest pupils were identified from their national test results, when they were 11. The same pupils were then tracked through until they took their A-levels at 18.

The email said: "A significant proportion (possibly as many as 22,000 a year) of our most able children are not realising their potential." These were the ones who failed to achieve the three top-grade A-levels they were capable of. Few went to grammar or independent schools.

No-one wants to go back to a compulsory 11-plus when children were partitioned for the rest of their school careers. But along with faith schools, academy schools and "free" schools if they ever appear, why not allow more grammar schools with a voluntary 11-plus where people want that option?

The evidence in favour is overwhelming. And what has happened to

democracy when 20 per cent, or even fewer, are allowed to deny choice to the other 80 per cent who show more sense?

Nick Seaton, from York, is chairman of the Campaign for Real Education.

Andy Smithers's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 15:24

There is also no desire to get rid of grammars as they are supported by the majority, I think we agree on that.

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 18:23

There is no evidence that they are supported by the majority of parents in this country. Most parents, if asked what sort of schools they want, say good local schools that their children can get into, not schools that reject around 80%of applicants.
If there was a clamour for more grammars, why is even the Tory Party so set against them?

Alan's picture
Mon, 09/05/2011 - 15:47

Nothing of substance in the above, just a load of pro-selection hot air – 10 year olds don’t train for the Olympic Games, nor do they freely volunteer for mock 11-plus examinations.
Mr Cameron is wise to prevent more selection – he’s a proper parent who understands his children’s feelings.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 10/05/2011 - 19:42

I see that Tory MP Graham Brady's Education Bill amendment, calling for independent schools that become academies to retain their right to select at 11, has only attracted 33 supporters. Sounds like even the Tory rank and file has now seen the light on this issue.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 10/05/2011 - 22:55

Increasing grammar schools is hardly likely at the top of the agenda for our fractious coalition.

An ICM poll is a reasonable piece of evidence that a majority of people want what the pollsters asked them they wanted.

I think it is worth asking why so many people don't want to send their children to a comprehensive, but are prepared to make substantial efforts in addition to the tax they have paid, to increase their child's educational chance of entering a grammar school.

Why don't comprehensives provide for what these people want? Why do you wish to use coercion rather than address the legitimate complaints of private citizens about their offer of schools? If comprehensives are good people will choose them. Just go and fix that.

In the meanwhile people will continue to want grammar schools till comprehensives can offer the same outcomes.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 11/05/2011 - 05:01

If you live in an area that has grammar schools, you are very unlikely to be able to send your children to a real comprehensive school; the choice is between grammar and secondary modern. This is one reason why there is no groundswell of support to bring back selection.

Tabbers's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 20:55

So why do people who live in fully comprehensive areas choose to apply to grammar school areas?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 11/05/2011 - 06:17

Ben -

The ICM have confirmed that the poll was NOT commissioned by the National Grammar Schools Association but by the "Campaign for Real Education" via Nick Seaton.

Since it appears that Mr. Seaton has been less than transparent about who really commissioned the poll, it would be wise to treat the telephone omnibus interviews used to gather the information with great scepticism.

The poll is not published on the ICM site and the questionnaire and results of its findings can only be disclosed with the consent of The Campaign for Real Education. It would be interesting to know exactly what questions were asked, the context in which they were asked and whether poll was commissioned in such as way as to obtain a biased report.

This is therefore unlikely to be an impartial survey and the manner in which Mr. Seaton seems to have misrepresented it in the press means we can't really take it seriously as an authoritative representation.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 11/05/2011 - 23:09

Why not open a free school comprehenisve in a selectibe area? Offer an alternative rather than removing one,

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 12/05/2011 - 07:17

Because you can't have real comprehensive schools if local grammars are selecting the top 20-30% of pupils.

Alan's picture
Thu, 12/05/2011 - 08:56

The ‘privatisation’ of education could help to pick the 11+ fly out of the ointment if more secondary schools had sixth forms.


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.