12th December 2016

Grammar schools and social mobility – Further analysis of policy options

The Government launched a 12-week public consultation, Schools that Work for Everyone, which closes today. This set out a series of proposals aimed at improving access to good schools. Within these proposals, an intention to allow selective schools to expand backed by £200 million was announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement. In September, the Education Policy Institute published evidence that found:

  • Pupils who attend a grammar school score highly in raw attainment terms driven by the very high prior attainment and demographic features of these pupils;
  • Only 2.5 per cent of grammar school pupils are eligible for free meals, compared with 13.2 per cent in all state funded secondary schools.
  • Positive grammar school attainment effects decline as the proportion of pupils attending grammar schools rises, and in the most selective areas there is a small negative effect of not attending grammar schools
  • For pupils who live in the most selective areas but do not attend a grammar school, negative effects emerge at around the point where selective places are available for around 70 per cent of high attaining pupils.
  • There are five times as many high quality non selective schools in England as there are grammar schools. These schools are far more socially representative than grammar schools.
  • Overall, this analysis supported the conclusions reached by the OECD for school systems across the world – that there is no evidence that an increase in selection would have any positive impact on social mobility.

This second report, published on 12th December looks at:

a) what the effects would be of putting new grammar schools in different parts of the country; and
b) the impact of introducing quotas for free school meal children in grammar schools

The analysis is completed using data from the DfE’s National Pupil Database.

You can download the report in full here.

Key findings of second report:

Impacts on local areas 

  • We have looked at the implications of expanding or opening new grammar schools by assessing the impacts in the 32,844 “lower layer super output areas” (LSOAs) in England. We look at areas where:
  1. extra grammar places would not be to the detriment of pupils who do not access them;
  2. there are sufficient pupil numbers to access and sustain the school without requiring long travel distances;
  3. new grammar schools would not undermine existing high quality non-selective schools; and
  4. there is clear parental demand.

Taking these in order:

Which areas pass the ‘No detriment’ test?

  • Expanding existing grammar schools is likely to add more selective places in areas where there are already grammar school places for half of high attainers.
  • This test rules out just under 30% of areas by the “no detriment” principle, meaning expanding grammar school places in areas like Kent, Medway, Thurrock, and much of Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire would come with a significant risk of reducing attainment in other non-selective schools, particularly for more disadvantaged children.

Which areas pass the ‘sufficient pupils’ test?

  • This test rules out a further 1% of local areas as not having sufficient pupils for more grammar school places.

Which areas with existing high quality non-selective schools would be undermined by more grammar school places?  

  • Once we exclude areas where there are already high performing non selective schools, there are just under a fifth of LSOAs remaining.

What areas have significant parental/local demand? 

  • YouGov polling suggests that there is clear and strong support for grammar schools in 37 local authorities. However:
    These areas are disproportionately areas which already have grammar school places, meaning expansion in 25 of these strongly supportive 37 local authorities would lead to negative attainment effects for pupils not attending grammar schools.
    Support for additional grammar schools is also much stronger in areas of low disadvantage, and it is weaker in areas of high disadvantage.

Therefore, including this fourth principle of local demand for more places, out of 152 local authorities, there are only six in England where at least 10 per cent of pupils meet the location principles for new grammar schools, and where there appears to be clear public support for expansion. These are:

  • Solihull, Essex, North Yorkshire, Dorset, Northamptonshire and North Somerset.
    – The expansion principles would only be met in parts of each local authority area.
    – All six of these local authority areas have levels of disadvantage which are below the national average area.
  • We therefore conclude that it will be difficult for the government to identify areas for grammar school expansion that will avoid damage to pupils who do not access the new selective places, where there is public demand for new selective places, and high disadvantage.

We also conclude that the Government’s present stated strategy of expanding existing grammar schools is likely in a majority of such areas to reduce the average attainment of disadvantaged pupils and is therefore unlikely to improve social mobility.

  • A more promising approach in the most disadvantaged and low attaining areas may therefore be to focus on increasing the quality of existing non selective school places, as has been successfully achieved in areas such as London over the last 20 years.


  • The Government has suggested that it might want to use quotas to increase access to grammar schools for disadvantaged children. We have considered possible quotas for disadvantaged pupils, set at different levels, including:
    • a quota at the level of high attaining poor pupils in the catchment area.
      • This might raise the proportion of FSM pupils entering grammar schools from 2.5% to 6.8%.
      • This would potentially benefit 1000 additional disadvantaged children nationwide. Due to the small number, this would not make a significant impact on the overall national disadvantage gap.
    • quotas set at the national FSM rate of 13.3%, and the local FSM rate in selective areas (14.6%).
      • This would result in pupils being admitted to grammar schools with much lower levels of attainment than would presently be the case. We cannot therefore say whether this would result in the same average positive gains we currently find in grammar schools.
      • There is a risk that lower attaining FSM pupils would be grouped together into lower ability classes
      • There would also be a challenge that parents of non-FSM pupils who scored higher than FSM pupils on the entry test would feel that their children had been unfairly treated. This might be particaurly challenging in respect of one of the groups that the Government says it wants to prioritise the ‘just about managing’ group.
  • Looking at the possibility of opening new grammar schools, under optimistic assumptions and large quotas, our modelling suggests that any benefit to FSM pupils would be very small (+0.1 GCSE grades per subject), would still reach only a small fraction of FSM pupils, and would quickly become negative if the number of grammar school places exceeded 70 per cent of high attainers.

See also:

Grammar schools and social mobility‘: our first report on this area – the most detailed impartial study of the data and evidence on selective schools for almost a decade.

‘Schools that work for everyone’: read the Education Policy Institute’s official response to the consultation.

The 11-plus and access to grammar schools‘: we examine the current barriers to entry to grammar schools for disadvantaged pupils; whether it is possible to design tests that are ‘tutor-proof’, and the impact of employing quotas or lower pass marks for FSM (free school meal) pupils.