Grammar schools must work harder to encourage children from poor backgrounds to apply, a charity has said, as a new study reveals they educate a disproportionate number of children from private preps.
Social mobility charity the Sutton Trust made the call as research showed privately-educated children are four-and-a-half times more likely to attend a grammar school at the age of 11 than the poorest pupils.
The new figures have also prompted the trust to call for the admissions tests to England’s 164 grammars to be reviewed to make them “less coachable”.
Applicants should also receive ten hours of free or subsidized test preparation, to provide “more of a level playing field”, it said.
The report shows that in each year from September 2009 to September 2011, there were around 22,000 entrants to year 7 in grammar schools, but little more than 600 were entitled to free school meals. Meanwhile, almost 2,800 came from outside the English state sector, largely from private schools.
This is despite the fact only six-per-cent of English 10-year-olds are privately educated, and considerably more – 16 per cent – are on free school meals.
The study highlighted striking regional variations as well. In Essex, for example, more than a third of pupils transferred to grammars from outside the English state system, compared to just 7 per cent in North Yorkshire.
The report said: "It may be that parents see grammar schools as a cheaper alternative to private schools, or it could reflect an active investment by parents to help their children's chances of getting into a grammar school."
The research also shows that in selective authorities, high-achieving children not entitled to free school meals have a much higher chance of going to a grammar than equally high-achieving children on free meals.
Grammar school heads told the researchers that parents from disadvantaged backgrounds often associated their schools with tradition, middle class values and elitism.
This created a social rather than an educational barrier that made them reluctant to send their child to the local grammar, the report found.
The new research, Poor Grammar: Entry into Grammar Schools for disadvantaged pupils in England, was conducted by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, University of Cambridge, University of York and NatCen Social Research.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Politicians of all parties have accepted that grammar schools are here to stay. While their numbers are not growing, the number of pupils admitted to them has risen by a quarter or 30,000 since 1997 and it is likely to continue to grow in the years ahead.
“The big challenge particularly in those areas where a selective system prevails remains how to ensure that those grammar schools are open to all, and are not simply the preserve of better off families who can afford private tutors or prep school fees.”
Other measures being recommended by the Sutton Trust include giving preference to all pupils on the pupil premium who reach a certain threshold in entrance exams.
Primary schools, it added, should do more to encourage children to apply to grammar schools and form more links with local grammars.
The findings come after a number of reports of grammars trying to open themselves up to less privileged children.
In May this year, the high-performing Chelmsford County High School for Girls announced it would scrap the 11-plus and introduce a new selection system, to stop middle-class parents subjecting children to up to six years’ worth of coaching.