Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

28th Sep 2016

Poor children do worse in areas that have grammar schools

“The evidence, Mr Speaker, of the effects of selection is this. In Kent, which has a grammar school system, 27% of the pupils on free school meals get 5 good GCSEs, compared with 45% in London.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 14 September 2016

This is correct. In 2014/15, 46% of pupils in London known to be eligible for free school meals got between a C and an A* in five or more GCSE subjects, including maths and English.

In Kent, it was 27%.

There aren’t many grammar schools in London, whereas Kent is one of the few areas of the country to have a selective system.

But London outperforms the rest of England as a whole when it comes to the exam results of free school meals pupils—not just selective Kent. Across English regions outside of London, 30% get 5 good GCSEs, not much higher than Kent.

That doesn’t take away from the argument as a whole. In Kent and neighbouring Medway, “poorer children lag further behind, richer children move further ahead” than both London and the rest of England, as research by Chris Cook for the BBC has shown.

Children eligible for free school meals are far less likely to get into grammar schools in the first place.

Poor children at grammar schools seem to do well

“When we look at the impact of grammar schools, if you look at attainment, for disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children, the attainment gap in grammar schools is virtually zero, which it isn’t in other schools”

Theresa May, 14 September 2016

While selective systems widens the educational gap between rich and poor, perhaps grammar schools themselves improve the results of less advantaged children who do get in.

The Department for Education told us that Mrs May was referring to the average gap between the percentage of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils who achieve five or more GCSEs at A* to C level, including in English and maths.

Non-disadvantaged pupils did slightly better than disadvantaged pupils in English grammar schools in 2015 by this measure. The proportion of non-disadvantaged children achieving this level was on average three percentage points higher than the proportion of disadvantaged pupils reaching this level in each school.

Nationally (mainstream state schools excluding grammars) the difference is around 23 percentage points on average. So the gap in grammar schools is a lot closer to zero, but it’s not quite zero.

This analysis doesn’t account for variation between schools, or between pupils.

Some schools have only a few disadvantaged pupils while others have over one hundred. But the gap is similar—four percentage points—if you compare the performance of all disadvantaged pupils in grammar schools to all non-disadvantaged pupils.

Data isn’t given for schools with very small numbers of disadvantaged pupils, so 49 grammar schools are excluded.

Accounting for pupil characteristics, research published by the Sutton Trust in 2008 found that “pupils eligible for FSM [free school meals] appear to suffer marginally less educational disadvantage if they attend grammar schools”. But it said the effect wasn’t completely clear cut because there could well be further differences between grammar school pupils and their peers not accounted for in the study.

Whether rich or poor, grammar school pupils do well in exams and in life. “There is robust evidence that attending a grammar school is good for the attainment and later earnings of those who get in”, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies puts it.  

But as we’ve established, there tends to be a trade-off for society as a whole, as there’s “equally good evidence that those in selective areas who don’t pass the eleven plus do worse than they would have done in a comprehensive system”.

Update 28 September 2016

We updated the article, including the conclusion, with the statistics the government said the claim referred to. We also changed the wording of the claim to better reflect the quote.

Update 24 February 2017

We added "This might reflect more about the types of children that go to grammar schools rather than the effectiveness of the schools themselves." into the conclusion. We also slightly expanded on why the Sutton Trust said the effect wasn't clear cut.

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

“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.

The number of teachers in English schools

“[There is] a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention”

Jeremy Corbyn, 14 September 2016

“We have more teachers in our schools today than in 2010, we have more teachers joining the profession than leaving it

Theresa May, 14 September 2016

Both leaders have a point here.

Take recruitment first. Overall, about 32,000 people entered teacher training in 2015/16—7,000 fewer trainees than were recruited for 2009/10.

The numbers were up last year, but not enough to meet the government’s recruitment target, which hasn’t been reached since 2012/13.

But the drop in teachers entering training hasn’t led to a drop in the number of teachers in state schools. This may be because newly qualified teachers only account for about half of the additional teachers in a given year; others come from outside the state sector, or return to teaching after a break.

Ms May is correct that there were more teachers altogether in England’s state schools in November 2015 than 2010, measuring by both headcount and full time equivalent.

That said, the number of pupils has also increased. And within that headline figure are big differences: the number of primary teachers has risen, but the number of secondary teachers is down. This may be what Mr Corbyn was referring to.

Finally, slightly more qualified teachers left state-funded schools in England than entered them in 2015. 49,700 entered and 50,200 left. However, full time equivalent figures do show more entrants than leavers in 2015. 45,800 entered and 43,100 left.

Apprenticeship funding: going up or down?

“...but will she take it from me that her words of congratulation would mean rather more if they were not accompanied by cuts of between 30 and 50% in apprenticeship funding.”

Richard Burden MP, 14 September 2015

The total amount of funding that’s available for apprenticeships will go up from April 2017, when the apprenticeship levy on businesses is introduced.

But although the total pot of money will get bigger, the way that pot is divided up will change from the start of May.

The new rules for funding mean that some types of apprenticeship are facing an effective funding rate cut: the maximum that they could be allocated under the new rules is less than what they currently receive from the government.

One analysis has suggested that some apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds could see a funding rate cut of between 30% and 50%, based on case studies of three of the most popular types of apprenticeships.

The exact reduction in funding would depend on the type of apprenticeship, and whether the apprentice would have been eligible for extra support under the old system.

Not all apprenticeships will be affected in the same way. The same analysis looked at how, in some situations, funding rates for older age groups in less deprived areas could increase.

“I simply don’t recognise the situation he’s set out in relation to apprenticeships. We have seen 2 million apprenticeships created over the six years, we are committed to seeing more apprenticeships created.”

Theresa May, 14 September 2015

About 2.5 million apprenticeships have been created since 2010, slightly more than Theresa May suggests.

The government has set a target to create 3 million by 2020.


This article originally stated that the proposed changes would take place in March. The apprenticeship levy will be introduced from 6th April, and the changes to funding rates are proposed to start from 1st May.