Don’t believe the hype – grammar schools won’t increase social mobility

Apr 11, 2017 by

Fiona Millar

Despite the slick campaign promoting grammars, hard evidence shows selection is wholly negative for the poorest pupils

Brexit has been all-consuming and somewhat obscured the government’s much trailed grammar school plans. However, a white paper is said to be due any minute and could take many forms. So far hints seeping out of Whitehall suggest anything from full repeal of the 1998 act (which banned new selective schools) to plans for a handful of new selective schools in some disadvantaged areas or multi-academy trusts simply reassigning one school for higher attainers using a non-test-based process.

Much depends on the government’s stomach for a parliamentary fight. But it is in a bind. Having sold new grammars as a route to greater social mobility, it must overcome the hard evidence that the net impact of selection is wholly negative for the poorest children.

Ministers will also have to decide whether existing grammars must play by the same rules as any new ones. This is already leading to a genteel tussle within the Conservative party between those who want grammars’ super-elite status preserved and those who think social mobility should trump all else, even if it means admitting children who wouldn’t normally pass the entrance test.

For the rest of us the task will be to cut through half-truths and misinformation, including the slick campaign promoting grammar schools’ new-found social purpose and alleged “prioritisation” of poor children.

At the heart of this debate is the 11-plus test. Still masquerading as an assessment of Cyril Burt’s discredited “innate” ability, the only innate thing about it is its deep unfairness. Even the most sympathetic psychologists today admit that human potential and development are a complex mix of heritability and environment, which can’t be evaluated in a single exam.

Source: Don’t believe the hype – grammar schools won’t increase social mobility | Fiona Millar | Education | The Guardian

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