Government must show new grammars close attainment gap

13 February 2017

The Government must demonstrate that creating a wave of new grammar schools will help close the attainment gap between poorer children and their better-off peers, say the House of Commons Education Committee in an 'evidence check' report.

Committee calls for thorough assessment of impact of introducing new grammar schools

The Committee calls on the Government to publish a thorough assessment of the impact of introducing new grammar schools on the wider school system, given the potential consequences for school  funding, the supply of teachers, and the overall health of schools in England from expanding selective education. The Government must also set out how new grammar schools will help close the attainment gap within the wider school system, not just for individual pupils.

At the evidence hearing, the Schools Minister suggested a tutor-proof test is a 'holy grail'. The Education Committee recommends that if this is the case selection tests should not be the only basis for grammar school admissions. The Committee finds that the Government has yet to demonstrate how an admissions system could be designed in a manner which would be immune to gaming, or down to the ability to pay.

"Government has yet to prove the case for opening a new wave of grammar schools"

Neil Carmichael, MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

"The Government has yet to prove the case for opening a new wave of grammar schools. The Prime Minister rightly talks of making Britain a great meritocracy. If the Government wants to push ahead with new grammar schools it must demonstrate how this aids social mobility and improves educational outcomes for all, most especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The focus on opening new grammar schools is, in my view, an unnecessary distraction from the need to ensure all our young people are equipped with the skills to compete in the modern workplace. A broadly skilled workforce is crucial to the future success of the UK economy. If the Government is committed to increased specialisation in our education system then they should spell out how this meets the aims of the Industrial Strategy and the goal of an economy that works for all."

The Committee notes that the policy aims set out by the Government for new grammar schools—to increase parental choice, create more good schools, and close the attainment gap—differ significantly from the characteristics of grammar schools of the past and present.

Evidence that pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds did better in grammar schools was weak

The Education Committee heard evidence from a panel of academics and policy experts, responsible for leading items of research in this field, where they expressed their scepticism at the influence of grammar schools in improving attainment. Members of the panel were in broad agreement that the evidence that pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds did better in grammar schools was weak.

While the Schools Minister cited evidence relating to GCSE results, Progress 8, and university entries in support of the case for grammar school success, the Committee’s report urges caution when making comparisons between high- and mixed-ability pupils at selective and non-selective schools. The Committee stresses the importance of ensuring that, where comparisons are made, they take into account wider socio-economic issues.

During the evidence session, the Schools Minister made a clear commitment that "it absolutely will be a condition of approval" of any new grammar schools that they will "have to demonstrate how they are going to help other schools in the area". The committee commends this element of the policy and insists that it must be made part of any legislative scheme.

'Evidence check' hearing

The report follows an 'evidence check' hearing on 8 November 2016 when the Education Committee questioned Schools Minister Nick Gibb, Dr Tim Leunig, Chief Scientific Adviser, the Department for Education, Dr Rebecca Allen, Reader in Education, University College London and Director of Education Datalab, Professor David Jesson, Professor of Economics, University of York, Mr Luke Sibieta, Programme Director, Institute for Fiscal Studies and Professor Anna Vignoles, Professor of Education, University of Cambridge on the evidence base for creating new grammar schools.

The evidence session in November covered a range of issues relating to measuring academic success, admissions and testing (including evidence on self-selecting intake to grammar schools and the age of selection) and the impact on non-selective schools in areas with grammar schools.

Further information

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