Expanding the number of grammar schools is unlikely to promote social mobility, according to new research.
The Durham University study found that a child’s chances of going to grammar school varies depending on the local authority in which they live, their social and ethnic background, and their attainment level at primary school.
The findings emerge at a time when the government is encouraging grammar schools to expand, and increase the number of disadvantaged pupils they educate.
The study looked at the 36 local authorities in England with academic selection and found that the proportion of pupils attending grammar schools in each authority ranged from 1.4 to 37.4 per cent.
The minimum KS2 test scores of pupils admitted to grammars were more than twice as high in some local authorities compared to others.
Academic Binwei Lu concludes that applying for a grammar place in a different local authority area – an option more readily available to more affluent families – could increase a child’s chances
The study published in Educational Review found that 25.3 per cent of pupils who attended grammar schools lived outside the local authority. Analysis showed that pupils who move outside their home local authority for secondary education were “usually move advantaged than those who stay within.”
Ms Lu notes: “While it is often mentioned that coaching gives more affluent pupils an unfair advantage in grammar school selection, our study suggests that a simpler, but effective action for the rich would be to let their children sit the 11 plus in other local authorities with more grammar school opportunities."
The study also found that pupils eligible for free school meals, pupils with special educational needs, "native English speakers", and white pupils were less likely to go to grammar schools, while those from more affluent areas and from certain minority ethnic groups were more likely to attend.
Despite these differences, the research showed that attainment was more important than personal background during the selection process.
“While this outcome demonstrates the relatively equitable process of grammar school enrolment based on selection criteria, there is also no evidence that grammar schools can help the poor, as their likelihood of attending such schools is limited,” Ms Lu concludes.
“If secondary schools are allowed to select based on attainment, they are thus selecting pupils from more advantaged backgrounds. The assumption that grammar schools promote social mobility is therefore unsound.”
Ms Lu warned that if grammar schools performed better than other state schools, they would “widen the gap between children from high and low socioeconomic groups by offering higher Key Stage 4 results for their pupils.”
“In the meantime, pupils without sufficient family support, who thus perform worse than they would have otherwise at the age of 11, will lag further behind as they will be enrolled in less effective secondary schools.”
The paper was written after prime minister Theresa May abandoned plans to introduce new grammar schools but before education secretary Damian Hinds announced £50m for 2018-2019 to expand grammar school places, either by expanding on site or via satellite sites.
Applicants to the government's Selective Schools Expansion Fund need to show “ambitious and deliverable” plans to increase mobility in their school. So far, more than 20 percent (35) of the country’s 163 grammar schools have submitted consultation plans to expand.