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.
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.
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.
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.