Grammar schools ‘are no guarantee of success’

Photo: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire
Photo: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire
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ATTENDING a grammar school does not necessarily boost a child’s chances of gaining a degree from a top university, according to new research.

It suggests that these selective schools are no better at helping their pupils to graduate from an elite institution than comprehensives.

Instead, the apparent success of grammar schools is more likely to be down to their students coming from richer backgrounds and gaining good results when they were younger.

But private schools do make a difference to a teenager’s degree prospects.

The findings are published just weeks after London Mayor Boris Johnson said that the decline of the grammar-school system is a “tragedy” and Home Secretary Theresa May voiced support for a new grammar in her constituency. The study, by the Institute of Education (IoE) and Manchester University, examined the education background of more than 7,700 people in England and Wales who are being followed as part a British Cohort Study.

It found that those who went to a private secondary school in the 1980s were around two-and-a-half times more likely to gain a degree from a leading Russell group university - considered among the best in the country - compared to those who went to a grammar or comprehensive school and had the same A-level results. Researchers concluded that 31 per cent of private-school pupils graduated from an elite university, compared to 13 per cent of those who went to grammar school, five per cent of those from comprehensives and two per cent from the old secondary modern schools.

But the study says that the difference between grammars and other state schools on this measure could be down to the grammar school pupils’ social background and other factors such as a youngster’s attainment at age 11.

Lead author Professor Alice Sullivan said: “It was surprising that grammar schooling was not linked to any significant advantage in getting a degree. Our preliminary investigations suggest that grammar schools did make a difference at O-level (the qualification replaced by GCSEs), but this did not follow through to university chances. There appears to have been a ‘leaky pipe’ between grammar school attainment and university entrance.”

Earlier this month, Mr Johnson said grammar schools were a “very important part” of the education system and have been “great mobilisers and liberators of people”. He backed the return of the schools but suggested changes could be made to alter the “brutal” system of selection at the age of 11.

There are currently 164 grammars - state selective schools - in England including six in Yorkshire. Skipton Girls’ High and Ermysted’s, a boys school in Skipton, Ripon Grammar, North Halifax Grammar and Crossley Heath in Halifax and Heckmondwike Grammar.

Mrs May’s Maidenhead constituency is not in an area which currently has a grammar system and legislation prevents new selective schools from opening. But she has given her backing to a plan to set up a school as a “satellite” of an existing grammar in a neighbouring borough.