Private pupils in switch to grammars

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Privately-educated children are four times more likely to attend a grammar school at the age of 11 than poor pupils, research has found.

A new study reveals that grammar schools are taking significantly more youngsters who have previously been educated outside the state sector – for example at fee-paying prep schools or abroad – than children who are eligible for free school meals, a key measure of poverty.

It suggests that many parents may see state grammar schools as a cheap alternative to sending their child to a private secondary school, or may be investing in a private prep school in a bid to boost their child’s chances of a grammar school place.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies for the Sutton Trust, looked at the make-up of grammar schools in England.

There are currently 164 grammars – state selective schools – in England. Some of these are individual schools, while others are in selective areas such as Kent and Buckinghamshire.

The findings show that on average each year between September 2009 and September 2011, around 22,000 pupils were admitted to grammar schools at age 11.

Of these, just over 600 (2.7 per cent) were eligible for free school meals while nearly 2,800 (12.7 per cent) came from outside the state education system.

Nationally, around 16 per cent of pupils in state secondary schools in England are eligible for free school meals while about 6 per cent of English 10-year-olds are being educated at private schools.

The study says that while grammar pupils are more likely to come from relatively affluent areas in general, youngsters coming from prep schools or from outside England are “particularly likely” to be from the least deprived areas.

It concludes: “In some grammars, the proportion of children being admitted from outside the state education system is substantial. More than a fifth of children in some local authorities come from outside the state primary system. This may arise partly from schools admitting students from abroad, but far more likely is that these children are entering from the private primary sector.”