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Grammar Schools

Volume 774: debated on Thursday 15 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what evidence they have that grammar schools improve the educational attainment of areas where they are established.

My Lords, exam data show that grammar schools achieve good results for pupils attending them. As set out in our consultation document, Schools that Work for Everyone, some studies suggest that there may be an association with poorer educational consequences for pupils not attending selective schools in areas where selection is allowed. In contrast, research from the Sutton Trust found no adverse effects of existing grammar schools on GCSE results for pupils in other schools.

I thank the Minister for that very well-crafted Answer. The vast majority of studies, apart from three, show that there is no overall attainment and actually all that happens is a distributive effect, where those who go to grammar schools improve and those who do not—the majority—have slightly worse educational attainment. Given that three or four times more people who sit the 11-plus fail it than succeed at it, that grammar schools tend to attract the highest-graded teachers and that this distributive effect takes place, what evidence is there that the consultation paper ideas that the Government have put forward will deal with these systematic failures that fail so many young people in the grammar school system based on selective education?

The existing evidence is based on the system as it currently works, which is old technology and has undoubtedly resulted in binary choices in cases. We want to develop some new technology that embraces the selective system to result in a benefit to the whole education system.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that there is a grave danger of this House being as out of step with the country on grammar schools as it was on Brexit? The majority of people in the country understand the huge value of grammar schools—

Noble Lords are making my point. The majority of people in the country are happy to see grammar schools reintroduced.

We want to widen the choice for parents and there may well be areas where they would like to see more grammar schools.

My apologies for inadvertently attempting to pre-empt the noble Lord’s interesting and relevant question, but can the Minister tell us in what way a system set up to reject a majority of children will serve the interest of a modern labour market and the needs and potential of individual students?

Again, the noble Baroness is referring to an old system, where indeed parents and pupils may have had a binary choice between a highly performing grammar school and a very poor secondary modern. Now they may have a choice between a highly performing grammar school and a highly performing academy, which may well suit that pupil better. We believe that if we have a system where all selective schools, including existing selective schools, are required to engage in a wider system of support, we may well be able in certain circumstances to develop technology which works for the benefit of all pupils.

My Lords, the Minister has said that he would like a wide choice of educational opportunity. Is it not astonishing that the recent White Paper makes no reference whatever to the remarkable work which my noble friend Lord Baker has been pursuing in establishing schools which concentrate on high technology?

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Baker for the UTC programme. It was not mentioned in the paper because that is not what it is about, but there is no intention to do anything other than support that programme.

Yesterday, in answer to yet another Question about grammar schools, the Minister stated that early years is so important. So why is it that a highly contentious and hugely socially divisive new policy on grammar schools can appear as if from nowhere in the form of a consultation document within two months of the Prime Minister taking office, yet a consultation document promised on children’s Sure Start centres last year still has no publication date, a fact confirmed by the Minister to my noble friend Lord Beecham in a Written Answer this week? The consultation document refers to £50 million being given over for grammar schools. Given the breadth of his remit, will the Minister commit now to fight within his department for a similar amount of funding for Sure Start centres, because they make such a difference to the lives of so many children born into disadvantaged families?

As I said yesterday, I entirely agree with the noble Lord about the importance of early years—I think we all recognise that. That is why it is so pleasing to see so many academy groups opening nurseries. There have been a number of mergers and some closures of Sure Start centres, but the number of pupils attending them has remained fairly constant and the evidence is that they are doing well. Of course, this Government have invested heavily in early years childcare.

My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that the 11-plus was based on what is now regarded as faked information about 11 being the correct age at which to assess? It is regarded as particularly unfortunate for most boys. If we are going down the selection route, could we not follow the example of public schools in pushing the age back by a couple of years?

As I said, we are working to develop systems which are much fairer and less easy to prepare for, and we believe that under the new system pupils may well be able to move streams or even schools at a later age. I entirely agree that the common entrance exam is a first-class exam taken at 13.