Recent media coverage surrounding rumours of a new generation of grammar schools under Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has brought up the question of how they affect the performance of pupils from a poor background.
In his 2006 Centre for Policy Studies report, Lord Blackwell, former head of the Number 10 Policy Unit, wrote that selective education can play a role in helping poor students achieve better outcomes.
The report said:
“IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, Britain cannot afford to educate its people less well than the best in other countries. We have to educate everyone well, and our most able brains superbly well, if we are to compete globally with educated people from the rest of the developed world and perhaps particularly from the emerging new economies in the east
“It is not a case of reverting to the 11-plus, nor of creating a few good schools for the academically able and forgetting about the rest. The selective system proposed here would set schools free to choose their students from those who applied; would offer ladders of opportunity to clever boys and girls from deprived areas; and would create a national network of specialist academic schools.
“The 40 year experiment with comprehensive schools has fallen far short of its aims. It was meant to provide, in Harold Wilson’s words, “grammar schools for all” and it was meant to lead to increased social mobility. It has done neither. It has not raised the standards of all and, as recent studies show, we now have a less mobile society than we had in the 1950s and 1960s.
“In effect, selection by ability has been replaced by selection by neighbourhood. That is not sensible, nor is it even egalitarian. This publication suggests that we rid ourselves of an outworn dogma, and follow a practical way to make our schools as good as we can make them.
“It is now time for politicians of all parties to reconsider the bias against selection that has dominated education thinking since Crosland. We owe it to our children to create a new generation of selective, academic state-funded schools and to open up access to all parts of the community, where necessary by providing free transport to those children who need it.
“Alongside these poll findings, perhaps the most tangible evidence of parental support for grammar schools comes from the real data on pupil numbers. Although no new grammar schools have been established for many years, since 1995 the number of pupils at the existing grammar schools has expanded by 35%.”
Read the full version of “Three Cheers for Selection: How grammar schools help the poor” below.