It depends on what purpose they serve. You’re testing at a particular age – and traditionally at a young age. And you’re testing to decide on which people go to one type of school, and which to another.
"You hear anecdotal stuff, like Theresa May saying, 'I went to a Grammar, and I did well in life, so Grammars must be good'. That’s such a childish and stupid argument."
Because you’re selecting by ability, what tends to happen is that you end up selecting inadvertently by a whole range of other things. The ethnic composition and the free school meal eligibility composition, for example, is very different in Grammar schools compared to the other schools around them, so they’re not reflective of the community. They reflect social advantage.
There’s an idea that they’ll enhance social mobility – that poor talented children in grammar schools will get a better education than they would have had otherwise. And if you look at that income gap, it is lower in Grammars than in any other kind of schools in the country.
But, if you look at the number of years that a child has been eligible for free school meals, children in Grammar schools are disproportionately those who’ve either never even been on free school meals, or have only been eligible for a couple of years only. In 2015, there were only 15 children in total, across all 164 Grammar schools in the whole of the UK, who’d been on free school meals their entire school life. So pupils are less likely to be mingling socially with other groups, which can risk social cohesion.
"A Grammar school does nothing other than separate by ability, which streaming can already do. And the evidence is that children don’t do any better as a consequence anyway."
You’re creating schools where the most able children get siphoned off. And no one ever says “we need more secondary modern schools”. No one ever thinks of what happens to the children in the secondary moderns, where the most motivated and able have been siphoned off to another school. For me, schools should represent the society we have – not the one we want to have – so children of all abilities should be mixed. We need the same kind of schools for all children.
The argument for Grammar schools is that both groups – those attending Grammars and those not – do better, as the teaching is more focused on the ability level of the pupils. But that can happen without Grammar schools, and already does, thanks to streaming. You don’t need a separate building for that; you can still do it where children are mingling socially with other groups.
A Grammar school does nothing other than separate by ability, which streaming can already do. And the evidence is that children don’t do any better as a consequence anyway. You’re taking all of the risk to social cohesion with no evidence of improving attainment. So is it worth the damage to social cohesion? It’s all risk for no gain.
There really is no evidence in favour of Grammar schools, and almost complete uniformity of expert opinion that these things do not work. You hear anecdotal stuff, like Theresa May saying, “I went to a Grammar, and I did well in life, so Grammars must be good”. That’s such a childish and stupid argument that I can’t believe the Prime Minister would use it, but there it is. It’s opinion, not research.
Also, if you look at the regular PISA statistics, which rank student achievement internationally, every year the countries that tend to do well are those that have more comprehensive school systems. There’s no evidence that the schools doing well are in selective systems.
Look at Northern Ireland – they retain the largest Grammar school-based system in the UK, but the results in England are actually better. If the Grammar system was so good, we’d find the opposite. There’s nothing to say that selective systems are better.