Poor pupils shut out of grammar schools

28th May 1999 at 01:00
Selective-sector intake heavily biased towards more affluent children. Clare Dean reports

Children from poor families are seriously under-represented in England's 166 grammar schools, new government figures reveal.

They show that in some areas, only one in 100 grammar-school pupils is eligible for free school meals - a key indicator of poverty. This compares with 18 per cent nationally.

In all 36 authorities with grammars, the pupils who attend them are significantly richer than the children at other local schools.

Campaigners against selective education have long argued that grammar schools reward social class rather than merit.

Even in inner-city areas, selective schools have privileged intakes. The sharpest contrasts in affluence were found in some of the most deprived parts of England. In Liverpool - where almost 40 per cent of secondary pupils are eligible for free meals - just 6 per cent of pupils at the city's selective Blue Coat school qualify.

In the eight Birmingham grammars, frequent stars in lists of top-performing schools, 5 per cent are entitled to free meals compared with 34 per cent of all city secondary pupils.

In Stoke, only one in 200 pupils at St Joseph's College - an ex-independent school which opted into the state system in 1997 - is eligible compared with almost a quarter in the authority's secondary schools.

Opted-out schools account for 101 of the grammars and can set their own admissions policies. Research from the Open University suggests that opted-out comprehensives reduced their proportion of free-meals pupils during the 1990s.

John Stoer, head of St Joseph's, said Stoke would not pay for transport to the college and added: "Despite what we want, it is the parents who can afford to send their children on the bus or drop them off themselves whose children come here. It is not our intention because we don't interview."

The statistics are released in a parliamentary answer comparing the percentages of grammar-school pupils eligible for free meals with the total of all secondary pupils in the same authority in January 1998 - the latest available.

It is the first time that the figures have been published in such a form and they are certain to be seized upon by anti-selection campaigners.

From September 1, opponents will be able to petition for ballots that can lead to abolition. The first fights are expected in Ripon, Trafford, Kent and the Medway Towns with ballots early in 2000.

Margaret Tulloch of the Campaign for State Education said: "Selection results in social exclusion as these figures demonstrate."

And Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, said:

"Grammar schools don't reflect their local community if they are in a poor area because they haven't got their fair share of children from poor families.

"Poverty cannot be used as an excuse, but it is a reason for under-achievement."

The National Grammar School Association was not surprised by the figures and said selection helped drive up standards locally.

John Harris, vice-chairman, said: "In Northern Ireland the 1998 exam results showed that children in a selective area achieved more than their peers in England which is predominantly comprehensive."

Leader, 14

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