The government’s proposals could change what we know about selection

14 September 2016
What was claimed

New grammar schools may be required to set up feeder primary schools in poorer areas.

Our verdict

The government is proposing and consulting on this option. Pupils' backgrounds are part of what makes current grammar school different from other schools, so proposals like this could mean that research about current grammar schools won't be a perfect guide to the impact that new grammar schools would have on social mobility.

“The Secretary of State for Education suggested on Monday that new grammar schools may be required to set up feeder primary schools in poorer areas. Will the children in those feeder primaries get automatic places at grammar school or will they be subject to selection?”

Jeremy Corbyn, 14 September 2016

Earlier this week the Education Secretary said to MPs:

“We are setting out a number of conditions that new grammars would have to meet for them to be able to open in the first place. Part of that … could involve setting up or sponsoring a primary school in a more low-income area that feeds the grammar school, so that it absolutely reaches into some of those ​communities that we want to benefit most from the good or outstanding grammars that are established”

The government’s consultation document on the new proposals confirms that it intends to require grammar schools to reach out to improve the education of pupils from all backgrounds.

One option is that new selective grammar schools would have to: “Establish a primary feeder in an area with higher density of lower income households to widen access”

At the moment, these are only proposals.

And, as Jeremy Corbyn’s question highlights, we don’t actually know how they would work in practice.

At the moment, schools that don’t wholly use selection are allowed to name ‘feeder schools’ as one of the criteria for handling over-subscription. If too many parents apply, the school can take into account the primary school attended by the pupil when deciding who to admit.

If new grammar schools are forced to select some of their pupils from feeder schools in poorer areas, it could mean that what we currently know about the relationship between grammar schools and social mobility won’t necessarily apply.

Pupils’ backgrounds are a big part of what makes grammar schools different to other schools, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Pupils attending grammar schools are more likely to have attended less deprived primary schools, and more likely to have attended faith schools.

Grammar schools also cast their net much wider than other schools, with their pupils coming from more than twice as many primary schools as non-selective schools.

Since we don’t know the extent of the government’s new plans, it isn’t possible to tell how much they could change the social makeup of the grammar schools we know.

If new rules do change the social makeup of grammar schools significantly, research about past or current grammar schools might not be a good guide to how new selective schools would affect social mobility.

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