The HEPI paper claiming grammar schools play a ‘significant role in supporting social mobility’ was incomplete and inaccurate, write three academics* on the Bath university blog.
The Department for Education data used by the HEPI paper’s author, Iain Mansfield, was ‘provisional’, the DfE pointed out. It warned ‘Caution should be taken in drawing definitive conclusions.’
The three academics said comparing pupil progress in selective areas with pupil progression in non-selective areas was ‘naïve’ because selective areas aren’t representative of the whole of England. Such an ‘inappropriate statistical approach’ would ‘upwardly bias the grammar school effect.’ The report’s conclusions, therefore, were ‘unlikely to be robust.’
Mansfield’s conclusion that the presence of grammar schools improved social mobility ‘is unlikely to hold true’, the academics wrote. This is because Mansfield did not consider whether there was any ‘offsetting impact’ on disadvantaged pupils in selective areas who don’t attend grammars:
‘…the vast majority of disadvantaged students in selective areas do not attend grammar schools, and the evidence suggests that these students suffer an education and wage penalty compared to their equivalents in comprehensive areas,’
The academics stress the importance of ensuring ‘appropriate data and robust statistical methodologies are used before drawing conclusions and making policy recommendations’ when discussing the ‘merits or otherwise of selective versus comprehensive education’.
The DfE urged caution when its provisional analysis was used. The data also had several limitations, the DfE said.
But Mansfield did not use caution. And while the DfE data supports his claim that 45% of grammar school pupils in highly-selective areas are from below median income households, Mansfield did not compare this 45% figure with data for non-selective secondary schools. 67% of secondary pupils in non-selective schools are from household below median income irrespective of whether the schools are in highly-selective areas or not.
The provisional data, used with such confidence by Mansfield, shows grammar schools still take far fewer 'disadvantaged' pupils than comprehensive schools.
We must also remember what I have stressed before. Judging a school system on one narrow measure - the proportion of pupils entering elite universities - devalues the work done in schools to meet the needs of all pupils not just those headed for the rarefied setting of Oxbridge.
My thanks to Katy Simmons for sending me a link to the Bath blog