Exclusive: More than third of grammar schools change admissions policies to prioritise poor pupils

Tes analysis suggests that at least 50 of the existing grammar schools have changed their admissions arrangements for 2018-19

Eleanor Busby

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More than a third of the existing grammar schools in England are set to change their admissions procedures next year to take more children from disadvantaged backgrounds, a Tes analysis shows. 

Our findings reveal that the number of selective schools that will give poorer pupils some priority for the first time in 2018, or that will further relax entrance requirements for these pupils, is growing. 

The changes follow the government’s unveiling of plans to require existing selective schools to become “representative of their local communities”.

The majority of England’s grammars did not take into account a child’s eligibility for free school meals (FSM), or pupil premium funding, in their admissions policies for this September.

But our findings suggests that many more grammars are opting to do something to improve social mobility before any new rules are introduced by the government. 

Of the 138 grammar schools that have published their 2018-19 admissions policies, almost three-quarters (72 per cent) are set to give some degree of priority to disadvantaged pupils.

The pressure to be more socially inclusive has been rising since September when the government announced its plans to expand academic selection.

Critics of the plans have focused on the low number of FSM pupils currently attending grammar schools.

To address this disparity, the government said in its Green Paper that it wants to require all existing grammar schools to prioritise poorer pupils in their oversubscription criteria. 

But grammar schools could still find themselves being forced to go further in improving access for poorer pupils than they have been prepared to do voluntarily.

According to a government source reported in The Times this month, existing grammars may be required to offer lower 11-plus pass marks to poorer children. Currently only a handful of schools do this.

From September 2018, Liverpool Blue Coat School will have a slightly lower entrance pass mark for up to 27 FSM pupils. 

But head Mike Pennington told Tes that the school began making plans to alter their admissions policy before Theresa May became prime minister. 

He said: “Social mobility in Liverpool is a massively important thing for us to tackle and to face up to, and to be prepared to try things that are going to change it."

This is an edited version of an article in the 31 March edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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