DfE: Labour ‘misses the point’ of Selective School growth scheme

Janet Downs's picture


Labour’s analysis of disadvantaged pupils currently in the sixteen grammar schools chosen to receive money from the Selective School Expansion fund ‘completely misses the point’, says yesterday’s Department for Education media blog

The point of the scheme is to increase the number of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) gaining a selective school place, the blog says.  The chosen grammars must say how ‘they aim to increase their intake of disadvantaged pupils’.  These can include lowering the 11+ pass rate or setting up a table during primary school parents’ evening to explain how selection works. 

It’s to be hoped that primary schools on the receiving end of these visits will also invite heads of local non-selective schools to explain how comprehensive education benefits all children.

In DfE speak, a few more FSM pupils are ‘countless’ numbers

The DfE says ‘countless’ numbers of disadvantaged pupils ‘will benefit from places at outstanding schools.’  How many, exactly, is ‘countless’?   This rather vague description hides one unpalatable fact: the proportion of disadvantaged children in the chosen sixteen would still be lower than the proportion locally, Schools Week analysis* reveals.  

Grammars narrow the ‘gap’ by purging it before entry – not something other schools can do

Jim Skinner, chair of the Grammar School Heads’ Association, told Schools Week the policy would help narrow the achievement ‘gap’ between disadvantaged and advantaged children.  But there is no such gap between FSM and non-FSM pupils at grammar schools: selection chooses only ‘bright’ children whether disadvantaged or not.  

It’s a matter of concern when a representative of grammar school heads doesn’t understand that the gap disappears when schools choose only the brightest.   Perhaps it’s less a lack of comprehension that an unwillingness to acknowledge this obvious fact.  Much easier to play along with DfE propaganda about narrowing the gap especially when rewarded with cash exclusively available to grammar schools.

Selective schools have already grown

Skinner defended the scheme as being ‘entirely appropriate’ that grammars should be able to expand in the same way as other good or better schools.   But grammars have already expanded.  Many grammar academies have increased their Pupil Admission Numbers. Many grammar academies have in the past used Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) money to finance new classrooms when the money should have been used to keep existing buildings in an acceptable condition.  And an ‘annexe’ to an existing Kent grammar opened in September 2017 at a cost of £11m.   That money could hardly have been CIF – the DfE must have funded it somehow.




*My previous analysis of the proportion of FSM pupils uses different figures.  I used data from Get Information About Schools which gives the proportion of pupils eligible for FSM on the day of the annual school census.  This data shows a far lower proportion than figures for pupils eligible for FSM any time in the last six years which I think is the data used by Schools Week.  Nevertheless, Schools Week’s analysis still shows the chosen sixteen are not likely to reach the proportion of FSM children in the local area.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


John Mountford's picture
Wed, 12/12/2018 - 14:46

Janet, the reason Jim Skinner is wrong about helping to narrow the gap in favour of disadvantaged children by this 'slight of hand trick', on behalf of this bankrupt government, is simple. The truth is, selection chooses only bright children whether disadvantaged or not. It does what it says on the tin! Certainly, this has always been the most objectionable feature of selection. But, even as someone who does not support this system, I have to concede, how else is a selective system supposed to operate? Lowering pass marks is a total fudge. The solution lies elsewhere, as I point out below.

Any education system which fails to recognise that children of all abilities deserve support and guidance to explore and develop their talents and to achieve the best they can, is poor by any measure. However, this debate about the gap is spurious. I would go further and declare that the gap, as it is understood by most commentators does not even exist, as I discuss here.

As Professor Becky Allen recently pointed out  here, free school meals entitlement and qualification for the pupil premium does not identify many of the most disadvantaged pupils in our schools. On every count, we should be dismantling the grammar school system and insisting that every secondary school has to adhere to a properly administered banding system. This is the only way we will ever be in a position to compare schools fairly on grounds of intake ability, assuming that comparing schools contributes to improving education in the first place.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/12/2018 - 09:44

Hi John - you're right that all selection should be phased out (including the 10% places reserved for 'aptitude' which some supposedly comprehensive schools have).  In the meantime, however, you're right to ask how a selective system is supposed to operate where it currently exists.

It could be done by looking at SAT results.  Only those with the higher grade in all SAT subjects could apply for grammar schools.  This would be too late, however, to allow secondary school places to be allocated.

Would universal CATs do the trick if set in Year 5?  Tutoring has no effect on these, I believe.


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.