Grammar school heads say their efforts to prioritise disadvantaged pupils are being hampered by a delay in plans to extend free transport to selective schools.
A Grammar School Heads’ Association (GSHA) document says the transport is urgently needed if more disadvantaged pupils are to access grammar schools across the country.
The organisation, which represents headteachers of selective schools, says ministers are still considering whether they will extend free transport up to 15 miles for pupils on free school meals (FSM) going to a grammar school as set out in the budget.
“The problem with the 15 miles travel payment is that it would require legislation to require LAs [local authorities] to do this and no new education legislation has been announced for this parliamentary session,” the newsletter says.
Despite plans to create new grammar schools being dropped following the election, the newsletter suggests the pressure to increase the number of disadvantaged pupils in selective schools remains.
A Tes investigation published earlier this year found that more than a third of grammar schools had changed their admissions policies to prioritise disadvantaged pupils.
Now the GSHA document says that the Department for Education (DfE) has started to compile data on the number and percentage of FSM pupils in the Year 7 intake for grammar schools from 2014 onwards.
The newsletter says: “It is early days to see any impact but, not surprisingly, the picture is varied. Some schools have seen a significant increase in FSM pupils since adopting a priority but others haven’t. Equally some schools without a priority, have a relatively large and increasing FSM intake.”
The GSHA argues that prioritising FSM pupils in admissions is only part of the solution. It adds: “Clearly one of the biggest things that is needed is the free transport for up to 15 miles.”
“It is also the case that changing attitudes of some primary headteachers and families are crucial. LAs could do more to address such issues, as well as making parents aware where such priorities are in place,” the document says.
A key priority for the GSHA over the next year will be to build a comprehensive evidence base of best practice for improving social mobility – which will include prioritising disadvantaged pupils in admissions policies and outreach work with primary schools which targets disadvantaged pupils.