Evidence check: Grammar schools Contents

2Measures of success

Defining success

25.In our evidence check session, four broad potential measures of success were cited by the Minister:

(1) The English Baccalaureate (“EBacc”) (GCSE grade C or above in English, Maths, History or Geography, the Sciences and a language);

(2) Five A*-C GCSEs (including English and Maths);

(3) Progress 8 (an assessment of pupil progress during secondary school, across eight subjects); and

(4) Successful entry to university.

26.The Minister’s evidence indicated that measures (1) and (4) were preferred by the Government.44 The first panel told us that the most commonly used reference in the academic literature is category (2), due to its deep-rooted historical legacy.

The EBacc

27.In explaining the specific research which has been reviewed by the Department for Education, the Minister referred to statistics relating to the EBacc. He stated that, of the children who leave primary school having achieved level 5 in the Key Stage 2 SATS, 78% of grammar school children will go on to achieve the EBacc at age 16. This can be compared with the lower (52%) proportion of similarly high-ability children who leave non-selective schools.45 It is worth noting that the EBacc includes a core language, which is not compulsory on the national curriculum and at many non-selective schools. The Minister told us that the Government’s EBacc policy would be expanded so that “more young people [take] that combination of GCSEs.”46 He noted that the subjects in this cluster are regarded as “facilitating subjects”47 by the Russell Group of universities, and that too few schools enter pupils for these subjects. The Minister told us that the Government believes that, by increasing the supply of selective schools in such areas, school standards will be driven up across the board.48 Responses to the Government’s consultation will clarify this issue further.

Five A*–C GCSEs

28.Professor Jesson told us that there was a lack of evidence regarding the enhancement in the outcomes for young people who attend grammar schools, when assessed by five A*-C GCSE grades, including English and Maths. He noted that, while taking account of the attainment with which these pupils enter secondary education, the eventual statistics do not prove causality.49 The Minister told us that “the Education Policy Institute reported that those children going to grammar achieve one third of a grade in each subject higher than similar pupils in non-selective schools.”50 However, Professor Jesson stated that:

Because a grammar school gets 100% of its children getting five A*-C and the secondary school down the road gets 70% does not tell you that the grammar school is better. It simply tells you that most of the youngsters that go to the grammar school are at the higher end of the attainment profile and those in the other school are not.51

29.This is an important claim by Professor Jesson: if public money is to be invested in expansion of selective education, the benefits must be made clearer.

Progress 8

30.The Minister cited Progress 8 figures to support the notion that, when children from poorer backgrounds go to grammar schools, they do well academically: “In fact, they do better in grammar schools than the children at those grammar schools who are not from a disadvantaged background.”52 This, he stated, is why the Progress 8 figures (calculated from progress during secondary school across eight subjects) were so good in grammar schools: “0.33 compared to the national average of zero and for non-selective schools -0.03”.53

31.Dr Allen has written extensively on Progress 8, and offered a possible explanation for the reported success:

there are many children who are in grammar schools who have quite modest Key Stage 2 scores but they clearly passed the 11-plus, so we suspect they are much more able than their Key Stage 2 scores suggest. Then we observe these children with low [scores] making enormous progress in the grammar schools. It is most likely [that] the grammar schools are being wrongly rewarded for the progress that they made before they reached the age of 11.54

Dr Allen concluded that, in her view, there is a risk that the influence of grammar schools in improving attainment is overstated by saying the Progress 8 figure is a third of a grade’s improvement.

32.Professors Jesson and Vignoles agreed with the scepticism regarding the quality of these results, noting that it was a new measure and still surrounded by some uncertainty.55 They told us that the measure should be assessed in a year’s time, when consequences of Progress 8 could be assessed with more clarity: “As with any measure that you are using for accountability, you need to keep on top of the way that schools respond to it.”56

University entry

33.The final success criterion cited in the evidence check was entry to university. The Minister told us that one in five of the state school students that started degree courses at Oxford University between 2012 and 2014 came from a grammar school.57 This is a striking statistic, given that there are only 163 grammar schools, in comparison with thousands of non-selective state schools.58 He also told us that a grammar school pupil from a disadvantaged background is twice as likely “to go to a Russell Group university than a child who goes to a non-selective school”.59 However, citing admissions to a particular university or group of universities does not address the issue of improving outcomes for all children, or even academically gifted children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

34.The Government must demonstrate how the creation of new grammar schools will help close the attainment gap within the wider school system, not just for individual pupils.

35.We urge caution when making comparisons between high- and mixed-ability pupils at selective and non-selective schools. It is important that, where comparisons are made, wider socio-economic issues are taken into account.


44 Qq 44, 96

45 Q44. The Minister stated 55% in his oral evidence, but 52% in a backbench debate on the same day. HC Deb, 8 November 2016, col 1422

46 Q96

47 Ibid

48 Ibid

49 Q35

50 Q64

51 Q35

52 Q93

53 Q44

54 Q36

55 Q37

56 Q39 [Professor Vignoles]

57 Q55

58 5.2% of maintained secondary school pupils are taught in grammar schools. Grammar School Statistics, Standard Note SN01398, House of Commons Library, November 2016

59 Q69




10 February 2017