Middle classes 'buy' grammar places

15th June 2007 at 01:00
But new research suggests poorer pupils can benefit from selection

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS are taking up to a third of their pupils from private schools, which means that the middle classes are effectively "buying"

places, an influential academic claimed this week.

David Jesson, an associate director of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said analysis of the Government's national pupil database indicated that nationally more than 13 per cent of grammar pupils come from fee-paying preparatory schools. And in one local authority, which he declined to name, the proportion was 33 per cent.

Professor Jesson, of York University's economics department, said his findings demonstrate that grammars "entrench" social advantage. He has passed the data on to the Conservative leadership to help its case against expanding 11-plus selection.

But research by the London School of Economics suggests an increase in selection could begin to redress the under-representation of poorer pupils in grammar schools. It found that a 15 per cent expansion of grammar places in Northern Ireland in 1989 led to a 20 per cent rise in attendance at the province's 69 grammar schools by pupils who qualified for free school meals, compared with only a 17 per cent rise in attendance by more affluent pupils.

The expansion also led to a 12 per cent jump in the proportion of pupils gaining at least one A-level and a 17 per cent leap in those gaining at least five good GCSEs.

But David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, said the study had not evaluated the overall effects of selective education.

He advocates selection within schools through what the Tory party leader, David Cameron, has described as "a grammar stream in every subject in every school". Mr Willetts said this could be achieved through setting by subject or streaming across subjects.

Professor Jesson said the national pupil database showed private school pupils were gaining entry to grammar schools despite scoring lower in key stage 2 tests than state primary counterparts.

"Shouldn't we be more strict in looking at grammar admission procedures if wealthy parents are buying their children into schools that coach them for the 11-plus, even though, on a national test basis, they are no better than state school pupils?" he said.

He concluded that 3,000 of the annual 22,000 grammar school cohort were from the private sector. The figure was arrived at by adding grammar pupils who had taken national tests for 11-year-olds in fee-paying schools to those who had not taken the tests at all.

But Brian Wills-Pope, the chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, argued the figures demonstrated the need for more grammars to be built to fulfil parental demand.

"The grammar school ethos is to take pupils from any background," he said.

"I'm sure 11-plus coaching does go on in some areas. It's just a shame there aren't more places."

The dinosaur bites back, page 22

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