“The problem is that not enough children from lower [socio-]economic backgrounds get access into grammar schools—that’s why there isn’t the social mobility you’re talking about.”
BBC Question Time audience member, 29 September 2016
It’s true that the poorest children are less likely to go to grammar schools.
Less than 3% of pupils going to English grammar schools are entitled to free school meals, according to research from the Sutton Trust from a few years ago. Looking at the latest data for 2014/15, this figure has not changed. For non-grammar schools in the same area, the Sutton Trust found that 18% of pupils were eligible for free school meals.
That isn’t just down to differences in ability. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that “amongst high achievers, those who are eligible for free school meals or who live in poorer neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to go to a grammar school”.
It said the question remains whether this is because poorer children are less likely to apply or less likely to get in once they apply.
Grammar school pupils are much less likely to be from deprived areas. Ofsted rank schools based on the average level of deprivation found at the postcodes of pupils from the school: 1 means the pupils are from the least deprived postcodes and 5 means they are on average from the most deprived.
40% of grammar schools achieved a 1 rating, compared to 20% of non-selective secondary schools. In contrast, less than 1% of grammar schools achieved a 5 rating, compared to 21% of non-selective secondary schools.
Pupils with the same level of maths at key stage two, or between the age of seven and eleven, were more likely to go to a grammar school if they did not receive free school meals according to a study of students between 2009/10 and 2011/12 by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The government has acknowledged that pupils eligible for free school meals are less likely to go to grammar schools. It says it wants to find out more about the impact of selective education on pupils from low income backgrounds who aren’t eligible for free school meals.
Evidence suggests pupils who get into grammar schools perform better than they would under comprehensive education, and pupils who don’t perform worse.