Why do so few low- and middle-income children attend a grammar school?

A new study led by John Jerrim at UCL Institute of Education suggests that private tutoring may be one reason that children from high-income families are more likely to get into grammar schools than children from low-income families.

The research, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study for more than 1,800 children from grammar school areas in England and Northern Ireland. It considers how factors such as family income, prior academic achievement, private tutoring and parental attitudes and aspirations are linked with children’s chances of attending a grammar school.

The study finds that children from families in the bottom quarter of household incomes in England have less than a 10% chance of attending a grammar school. This compares to around a 40% chance for children in the top quarter of household incomes. Results also show that children who receive tutoring to prepare for grammar school entrance exams are more likely to get in. Overall, around 70% of those who receive tutoring get into a grammar school, compared to just 14% of those who do not. However, less than 10% of children from families with below average income receive tutoring for the grammar school entrance test, compared with around 30% of children from households in the top quarter of family incomes.

Source: Why do so few low and middle-income children attend a grammar school?  New evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (March 2018), UCL Institute of Education

“Winners and losers” from selective school system

A new working paper from the Institute of Education investigates the impact of the UK’s selective grammar school system on earnings inequality. Although the comprehensive system now dominates, the value of selective systems remains a policy issue.

The authors used data from the Understanding Society longitudinal panel study, which collected information from people aged 16+ in approximately 40,000 households in the UK beginning in 2009. They found that the wage distribution for individuals who grew up in selective schooling areas is quantitatively and statistically significantly more unequal, with higher earnings at the top and lower earnings at the lower end of the distribution.

The additional difference in earnings between the 90th and 10th percentiles in selective systems accounts for 14% of the total earnings gap, increasing to 18% when the authors controlled for a range of background and personal characteristics. The authors suggest that this inequality may be the result of grammar schools attracting the most effective teachers.

The raw mean and variance statistics for the selective versus non-selective areas showed that overall, average hourly earnings from 2009–2012 were very similar across the two groups (£8.61 versus £8.59).

Source: Selective Schooling Systems Increase Inequality (2014), Institute of Education, University of London.

Are grammar schools failing to challenge their more able pupils?

A new report from the Schools Network suggests that some grammar schools may be failing to challenge their more able pupils because the current benchmark of 5+ A*–C GCSE passes including English and maths is too low.

The University of York’s Professor Jesson, the report’s author, suggests that for grammar schools this should be raised to 5+ A/A* GCSE passes including English and maths. Currently around 58% of pupils in comprehensive schools achieve 5+ A*–C GCSE passes including English and maths, compared with 55% in grammar schools achieving the suggested higher performance measure. Grammar schools should have “greater expectations” when it comes to pupils’ GCSE passes.

The report, which provided a comparative analysis of performance in all UK grammar schools, demonstrated that there are wide variations in both the intake of grammar schools in different parts of England and in pupils’ performance at GCSE. In outer London 75% of pupils in grammar schools achieved 5 A*/A GCSE passes including English and maths, compared to just 44% in east England. According to Professor Jesson these substantial differences go unnoticed in standard GCSE league tables where their performance is still considered to be high against current indicators of performance.

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