MINISTERS could greatly improve national performance at GCSE by ending selection across the country, new research says.
A study by David Jesson, of the University of York, found that pupils at secondary modern schools perform "substantially" worse than their peers of similar ability in comprehensive schools.
When the prior attainment of pupils is taken into account, an extra 4 per cent of pupils at comprehensives, compared to those attending secondary moderns, achieved 5 or more A*-C grades.
The research was carried out using the Government's own performance data for all 520,000 pupils in Year 11, last year. It measured pupil performance between 14 and 16 and suggests that even when grammars are included, schools in areas with selection perform worse than those in the rest of England.
Only 15 out of 150 education authorities are selective. But despite the efforts of anti-grammar school campaigners, and a promise by former education secretary David Blunkett, to end selection, none of these authorities has been forced to hold a parental ballot on their admission arrangements.
Professor Jesson said that when this research is "linked with earlier work from the Government's own statisticians, showing that the ablest pupils in comprehensive schools do as well, if not better, than similar pupils in grammar schools, it is clear that there is a very real problem of underperformance to be addressed".
But when he presented the paper at the BERA conference last week, he was challenged by Ian Schagen, of the National Foundation for Educational Research. Dr Schagen revealed that a paper to be published next month will show that at key stage 3, grammar schools significantly boost the performance of mid-ability pupils. He suggested that this may be due to the higher expectations of pupils at grammar schools.