Who benefits from grammar schools? A case study of Buckinghamshire, England
Who benefits from grammar schools?A case study of Buckinghamshire, England Richard Harris & Samuel Rose
IntroductionIn the fifties, a golden age of opportunity,almost 40% of those born to parents in thelowest social income groups grew up tojoin higher earners. By 1970 and eversince, only one-third achieved this. Itcannot be a coincidence that, in between,Harold Wilson‟s government abolishedgrammar schools (Hastings, 2009).
The history of the British secondary school system (in a nutshell)Pre-1944, a patchwork of church-led schoolsand public/private grammar schools1944 Education Act (Butler Act) – National secondary education system • Tripartite system: grammar, secondary modern and technical schools.Late 1960s, dissatisfaction with the selectivesystem and a move to a comprehensivesystem1988 Education Act onwards, move away froma comprehensive system with an increasinglydiverse system promoting competition,independence and innovation.
Arguments against the selective systemThe Butler Act took the concept of an academicallysegregated education system as far as it could go, anddid so with dedication and determination. The technicalstream never really got off the ground. Parentspreferred their children to go to a grammar school if heor she passed the eleven-plus, and without thenecessary public support, the money that technicalschools needed for qualified teachers and goodequipment was not forthcoming. Underlying thestinginess was the old cultural distinction, moulded bythe great public schools and the ancient universities thattechnical and vocational achievements were simply noton a par with the elegance of classical scholarship(Williams, 2010: 52).
Arguments for the selective systemHigher educational outcomesSocial mobility– E.g. the Daily Telegraph newspaper recently criticised David Cameron for lacking “the will to admit that grammar schools did more for working-class children than a thousand free school meals” (Randall, 2009).– Posh and Posher: Why Public School Boys Run Britain (first broadcast on BBC2 in January 2011).
Some previous studiesSteedman (1980): pupils who enteredcomprehensive schools had lower readingand maths abilities, and tended to be fromlower SES groups. Controlling for this,rates pupils advance in selective andcomprehensive schools are not statisticallydifferent. (Uses National ChildDevelopment Study)
Some previous studiesMarks et al. (1983): Controlling for SESand non-British ethnicities, pupils inselective schools attain more and higherpasses than those in comprehensives.(Use LEA level data)
Some previous studiesGrey et al. (1983): Consider thedifferences between LAs with and withoutgrammar schools. Comprehensivesystems had a levelling effect onattainment, raising fewer pupils to thehighest levels but raising the averageattainment. (Postal survey of Scotland)
Some previous studiesKerchkoff et al. (1996): Allowing for SESand prior academic attainment, found thathighest ability students performed athigher levels in selective systems and lowability students performed better incomprehensive systems but for moststudents school type has littleeffect.(National Child Development Study)
Some previous studiesGalindo-Rueda & Vignoles (2005):Comprehensive schools reduced the gapin educational achievement between themost and least able students but onaverage most pupils in the selectivesystem to better than those in mixed abilityschools. (National Child DevelopmentStudy)
Some previous studiesBoliver & Swift (2011): Going to a grammarschool did not make children from lowerSES backgrounds more likely to beupwardly mobile in terms of income orclass. As a whole, the selective systemyielded no mobility advantage to childrenof poorer backgrounds. (National ChildDevelopment Study)
Some previous studiesJesson (2000): Compares the value-addedof selective and comprehensive systems.No support to claim that selectiveeducation systems provide better GCSEexamination performance thatcomprehensives. (Use a NationalCollection Data Exercise from the mid-1990s)
SummaryThat selective systems of education produce betterlearning outcomes is disputed (as is the claim theysupport social mobility)Whilst grammar schools may lead to higherattainment for pupils who are successful inentering them, the concern is that this comes atthe price of depressing the average attainment forother pupils.Majority of studies are reliant either on aggregatedata or on data that were collected during the1960s and 1970s. Opportunity to update ourunderstanding of the effects of a selective systemto consider the present day.
StudyBuckinghamshire Of all pupils that entered any one of the most typical school types in Buckinghamshire, stayed in that school throughout the period to GCSE, took those exams in 2007, 2008 or 2009 and did not have any statement of educational need. 11 746 pupils in 32 schools
Two conditions benefitting argument in favour of a selective systemFirst, that there is a value-added learningoutcome for an academically able pupilattending a grammar school over and abovewhat would occur if that pupil had attended acomprehensive school.Second, that academically able pupils frommore deprived or socially excludedbackgrounds have no lower propensity to beadmitted to a selective school than equallyable pupils from more advantagedbackgrounds
Data matchingConsider the pupils in the prior attainmentoverlap between selective and non-selecting schoolsMatch pupils in or not in selective schoolsbased on prior attainment in maths,English and science.Balanced sample of 3438 pupils (1719pairs) with correlation of r = 0.99 in priorattainment of the paired pupils.
Data modellingNow use logistic regression to model theprobability the pupils in the balancedsample successfully passed five GCSEs tograde A to C (any five GCSES andinclusive of English and maths).
Summary (but not conclusion, sorry!)There are educational barriers to entry intoBuckinghamshire‟s grammar schools forpupils from lower income householdsinsofar as that is evidenced by eligibility fora free school meal and by the prevalenceof this group in the grammar schoolsrelative to other pupils.There is an educational advantagebestowed on those who attend a selectiveschool in Buckinghamshire relative tothose who do not, insofar as thatadvantage is measured by increasedprobability of attaining five GCSEs.
But…It is not known is how the difference inattainment is created. It could be that theselective system acts to raise (to givevalue-added to) the educationalachievements of those pupils in theselective schools. Alternatively, it could bethat the prospects of pupils who are not inselective schools are curtailed.
So…Two further data matchings– First, of the Buckinghamshire pupils who attended a selective school with pupils of similar prior attainment in the neighbouring authority of Oxfordshire, which does not operate a selective system.– Second, of Buckinghamshire pupils who did not attend a selective school but who had a combined Key Stage 2 score greater than the minimum amongst those who did attend a selective school, also matched to pupils of similar prior attainment in Oxfordshire.
(Another) summaryEvidence to suggest that selective schoolsare of educational benefit to those who areable to attend them.Yet, those who were unable to attend (but,in principle, could have given their priorattainment scores) would do better, onaverage, in a comprehensive system.FSM eligible pupils are under-representedin the grammar schools, even when thosepupils had prior attainment scores thatexceeded those of other pupils in theselective schools.
ConclusionWe suggested that two conditions shouldbe demonstrated to give support for aselective system.Of these, the first – a value-added learningoutcome – appears to exist but at a cost toothers not in the selective schools.The second – that academically ablepupils from more deprived backgroundsshould have no lower propensity to beadmitted to a selective school – does not.
HoweverAny system that does not guarantee a pupil willgain a place at a school of their choosing will riskbeing responsible for creating winners and losersin regard to who gains most from their schooling.Grammar schools remain rare nationally. A morecommon occurrence is one of geographicalconstraints placed on admissions to schools, ofhouse prices rising around the most popularschools, and of resulting „selection by mortgage‟.Whether this is an adequate (or even better)system for enhancing educational prospects andfor increasing social mobility is itself debatable