Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Grammar Schools Fail Poor Pupils

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Grammar Schools Fail Poor Pupils

Article excerpt

Some like to imagine that grammar schools are a panacea to Britain's lack of social mobility. Yet in Kent, which has 33 grammar schools, the system is making it harder for the poorest pupils to succeed.

This isn't the opinion of a teaching union. It's the verdict of Michael Gove and David Laws, both of whom have said that grammars aren't doing enough to reach out to poor pupils. The statistics are damning: in the selective local authorities in the UK today, pupils in the poorest 40 per cent of families do worse than average and those on free school meals do especially badly. Rather than enabling the most deprived children to rise, educational streaming seems to choke off their development.

The entry test for grammar schools could have been designed for middle-class parents with the sharpest elbows: at two grammar schools in Kent, over 4o per cent of pupils previously attended a private prep school. This is social mobility but only for the middle classes. No wonder grammar schools are so popular: the richer your parents, the better you do in grammar systems compared to the national average.

What's going wrong? A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies argued that it was the application system or the admissions system that was responsible--or, most probably, both.

The most common counterargument is that not enough poor pupils go to grammars because there are too few of them and they are limited to middle-class areas. Build more and everyone could achieve their potential. …

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