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Grammar Schools

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the findings of Professor John Jerrim in his paper The association between attending a grammar school and children’s socio-emotional outcomes, published in May, that grammar schools do not promote social mobility; and what continuing benefit they anticipate from the increased funding recently announced for grammar schools.

My Lords, the paper attempts to explore emotional outcomes of selective schooling and finds little difference between grammar school pupils and their peers at 14 in terms of well-being. It draws no conclusion about social mobility. Other research indicates that a grammar school education significantly reduces the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils. It is a condition of approval under the selective schools expansion fund that schools seek to admit more disadvantaged pupils.

My Lords, the £50 million extra for selective schools comes at a time when cash-strapped schools are asking parents for donations to make up funding shortfalls. Given that the noble Lord conceded in a written reply to me that there were no set numbers of places reserved for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, can he explain how the funding will benefit disadvantaged students? Does he also agree that, since the money provides just 4,000 extra places, it would be better spent reversing cuts to teaching assistant posts in primary schools, where research shows that the money would make a difference to social mobility?

My Lords, the amount of capital allocated to the grammar school expansion fund is, as the noble Lord says, £50 million against the context of over £1 billion allocated to the mainstream state system, so the sums are not big. However, we should discriminate between capital and revenue funding. While there is some pressure on schools on revenue funding, they receive 6.5% more per pupil in real terms than under the highest level of Tony Blair’s regime.

My Lords, I welcome the additional funding that the Government are putting into pupil premium and pupil premium plus, to assist disadvantaged children. Is the Minister keeping his eyes front and foremost on the need to address the deficits in teachers, particularly in mathematics? We need the best teachers to help our most disadvantaged children to do the best they can. Does he agree?

My Lords, it is a top priority of the Government to ensure that we have enough good maths teachers. Indeed, the noble Lord may be aware that we have now opened two specialist maths schools linked to universities, and are about to announce another one. They are producing some of the best mathematicians for the future generation, and I hope that they will go into teaching themselves.

Does my noble friend agree that wide public attention could usefully be given to the Government’s recent memorandum of understanding with the Independent Schools Council? It stresses that its own bursary support, which amounted to nearly £400 million last year, should be targeted on families,

“on the lowest incomes as well as looked after children, to increase opportunities for these children and to support social mobility”.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. We have recently signed this memorandum of understanding with the Independent Schools Council, which is reflective of its changing attitude to try to help more children from disadvantaged backgrounds into its schools. But it is also relevant—and I thank the noble Lord for his prompt—that we have just signed a memorandum of understanding with the Grammar School Heads Association. This is all about sharing the aims of seeing more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds sitting the entrance test, applying to grammar schools and being admitted. That is already happening, and more than 90 of our 160 grammar schools are already prioritising pupil-premium children where they can.

My Lords, how on earth can grammar schools promote social mobility when, on the Government’s own figures, only 2.6% of pupils are on free school meals? By extending grammar schools, all that will happen is that you will take pupils from successful academies and maintained schools and make the situation even worse.

My Lords, first, grammar schools make up only 5% of the secondary cohort in the country, so I do not believe that they can have a very detrimental effect on mainstream secondary schools. Also, for those children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are admitted to grammar schools, the impact can be substantial. The Education Policy Institute recently found that disadvantaged children attending grammar schools see the attainment gap significantly reduced from 7 percentage points in non-selective to 1.7% in their own schools. The aim is to get more disadvantaged children into grammar schools, and we have some great case studies where that is already happening. King Edward VI in Birmingham has an open-doors campaign, and in January last year had 191 children eligible for pupil premium, an increase on the previous year, which was 123. It is now up to nearly 12% of its cohort with pupil premium.

My Lords, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said about public schools, does the Minister not agree, on the record, that the position of public schools with regard to social mobility is not at all ambiguous? It is totally unambiguous.

My Lords, I am not entirely sure of the noble Lord’s question, but I reassure him that I have had a number of conversations with the chairman of the Independent Schools Council, which is committed to opening access for disadvantaged pupils. My noble friend behind me made the point that those schools are shifting the bursaries from scholarships, which are non-means-tested, to bursaries, and the number of means-tested bursaries has increased substantially over the last five years.

My Lords, according to the BBC, 68,000 new teachers need to be recruited from the ethnic minorities to reflect the population. What are the Government doing to encourage teachers from the ethnic minorities?