Grammars' success discounted;The selection debate;News;News amp; Opinion

5th November 1999 at 00:00
Nicolas Barnard reports on the week's exchanges in the continuing controversy over the future of selective admission schools.

BRIGHT children do no better at grammar schools than at comprehensives - and lower achievers consigned to secondary modern schools do worse, according to a new study of GCSE results.

Professor David Jesson of York University said the Government could raise the number of pupils gaining five good GCSE passes by three percentage points if it ended selection.

His analysis of figures provided by the Department for Education and Employment has boosted anti-selection campaigners, at whose conference in London he revealed his findings. But grammar-school heads urged caution.

Professor Jesson, associate director of York's Centre for Performance Evaluation and Resource Management, compared 1998's GCSE results for every school in the country with the results of key stage 3 taken by 14-year-olds two years earlier.

"Grammar schools get higher results but for a minority of pupils," he said. "The pupils that are not selected - and that is always the majority - get lower results than they would have elsewhere. We need to make this clear.

"Very able pupils in comprehensive schools do as well as their counterparts in grammar schools. So there is no advantage for able pupils - which would seem to be the raison d'etre of grammar schools."

Professor Jesson's study found that for all schools - comprehensives, grammars and secondary moderns - there was a broad correlation between key stage 3 results and GCSE outcomes. But looking at the most able students - those who scored an average of level 5.5 or better in their key stage 3 tests against an expected level of 5 - he found the range of GCSE scores in comprehensives was as good or marginally better than in grammar schools.

But for secondary-modern pupils, the outcomes were worse than for pupils of similar ability in comprehensives. Professor Jesson called that finding "shocking". He told the conference: "The majority of pupils who go to those schools are disadvantaged."

And he added: "The impact of grammar schools depresses overall the level of performance among authorities where they exist."

His use of key stage 3 results in the analysis drew some criticism. Future comparisons will match GCSE performance with key stage 2 tests taken at the end of primary school but because those tests were introduced later than others, data from the first cohort to sit those papers is not yet available.

Roger Hale, head of Caistor grammar school in Lincolnshire, also attending the conference, said students had been in the school for three years when they sat key stage 3 tests: GCSE was only two years later.

"It's not valid to look at what they have achieved after three years. Significant gains are made in the first three years," he said.

Campaigners were tilting at windmills, he added.

Earlier, the conference heard Dr John Marks defend grammar schools as giving a chance to working-class children who otherwise missed out.

The right-wing commentator defended the comparatively low number of children on free school meals in grammar schools as being in line with the numbers from such backgrounds who scored highly in key stage 2 tests.

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