Grammar schools can be a beacon of education excellence – but we need more of them

Grammar schools can be a beacon of education excellence – but we need more of them

A study last week has claimed that social background has more bearing on whether you go to an elite university than which school you go to – especially when comparing state schools.

The research from the 1970 British Cohort Study found that when you compare pupils from similar social backgrounds grammar schools offered no advantage in getting into a university over comprehensives.

There was a marked advantage, however, if you went to a private school.

It is no surprise to me that just as many students from the comprehensives go to top-rated universities as those who go from grammar schools.

There are only 167 grammar schools and there are thousands of comprehensives. The real issue is what comprehensives are we talking about? The fact is the most highly successful comprehensives are in lush middle-class suburbs where there are few social challenges and where the students are from well-off backgrounds.

It is quite clear from league tables that the top comprehensives are from these areas and they generally compete well with grammar schools. So we are not comparing like with like in this respect.

What really needs to happen is to locate new grammar schools in poorer areas to give the academically able from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds a way up.

Grammar schools are also targeted by middle-class parents so, in essence, the same kind of pupils are going to both types of institution in large part.

There are in fact hardly any areas in the country where grammar schools are fully integrated into the system – except Buckinghamshire and Kent.

Therefore the vast majority of the most able pupils in other areas are going to attend comprehensives or private schools if their parents can afford it (and few can).

The real debate should centre on how we help disadvantaged children in poorer areas and level up the education system.

I passionately believe grammar schools could play a part in this if there was one in every town across the UK (and we should focus on more disadvantaged areas first). These could be beacons of academic excellence and really help children in those areas reach their full potential.

In the past, grammar schools served this function more because there was so many of them, but because they are few in number and concentrated in only a few areas this has largely gone by the way.