1)The King Edward VI Foundation schools in Birmingham emerged as a case study during our session. The schools were noted as an example where an attempt had been made to address the low numbers of free school meal pupils in grammar schools. The Minister noted that this system has “different criteria for children from more disadvantaged backgrounds” and that it had been successful in increasing the proportion of children from those backgrounds attending those selective schools. Moreover, Dr Leunig highlighted the King Edward VI Foundation as an example of an “experiment” where its admissions testing was able to be tailored more closely according to background—a form of affirmative action, through which tutoring and affluence effects could be mitigated.
2)Professor Jesson highlighted the significance of this example, noting that the Foundation had “so enhanced its rapport and its engagement with its local schools” that around one-third of the 120 pupils that go to this independent school are in fact from non-selective state primary schools. This experiment, Professor Jesson told us, has given local children and their families the taste for—and inclination to—taking part in an elite system.
3)Dr Allen spoke at length about the Birmingham experiment, explaining that one of the King Edward VI Foundation schools had a target of 25% of its intake would be pupil premium children: a criterion that was met within two years. Because the Foundation does not have control over the entire system in that city, Dr Allen warned, “there was quite a large displacement of pupil premium children from some of the other grammar schools, and one in particular, into the King Edward VI grammar school”. While not inherently a negative outcome as mobility is on its face being improved, it is of course important to reflect on the consequences for those children. Children in receipt of free school meals might be tracked into sets which would ultimately comprise only pupil premium children: a system of being separate but equal—where tokenism remains a risk, and the obvious benefits of mixing could be missed. Dr Allen concluded with a warning:
If we look at the Birmingham experience and say, ‘We could do that across the country. We could have dedicated places for free school meal children,’ some areas would find them very difficult to fill [ … ] they would have to dip so far down the ability distribution that they would be admitting pupil premium children who did not look much like the other children in the grammar school as a consequence.
4)The Minister cited a Sutton Trust report from 2008 regularly throughout the evidence session. He told us that it “says that there is no adverse effect on the non-grammar schools in those [studied] areas, although I admit that the evidence is mixed.” While it is true that this particular report found no negative effect on other schools in the surrounding area, witnesses pointed out that the authors also note that there were few gains observed when controlling for achievement in primary school. This indicates that there were few advantages or disadvantages to a selective system. If the Government is determined to act, it should do so on the basis of stronger evidence than is currently available.
5)Mr Sibieta added that in Aberdeen in the 1950s and 1960s, boys who were not able to attend grammar schools did not experience significant disadvantage “because there was a high-quality level of vocational training and fairly clear occupational routes”. He told us that “a similar thing happened in Northern Ireland”. In response to this evidence, an official at the Department of Education in Northern Ireland told us that the figures are as follows: “84% of grammar pupils achieved 1 A-level; 41% of non-grammar pupils achieved 1 A-level; and 59% of pupils NI overall achieved 1 A-level”.
10 February 2017