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Reform submitted a response to the Government’s consultation on their paper ‘Schools that work for everyone’. Read the full PDF here and below.
Reform recognises the need to create more additional school places, but believes that demand should be met by expanding non-selective provision only. Non-selective provision means schools that have no ability or faith entry requirements. We alternatively recommend that local authorities be required to widen or remove catchment areas and that other restrictions on school entry are removed. This simplification of the school admissions code would widen access to the best schools by the poorest pupils and, if implemented alongside random allocation for oversubscribed schools, would create a fairer system than the current or proposed ones.
Reform believes that, while universities, faith and grammar schools wish to expand their provision, enabling them to do so is not in the best interests of all pupils. By design, grammar schools reduce consumer choice over which school to attend. In addition, it will particularly reduce the choice of those from disadvantaged backgrounds because attainment at age 11 is highly associated with parental income. Reform believes that the demand for new school places should instead be met wholly through an expansion of the free school programme and a review of the regulation surrounding non-selective school expansion.
Reform acknowledges that the current system for allocating pupils to schools restricts access to the best schools by the poorest. It is largely based on proximity to the schools, which is linked to the affordability of housing in the area. This is why Reform recommends widening or removing catchment areas. Evidence suggests that expanding selective provision would exacerbate rather than improve the situation.
There is evidence that pupils from low-income backgrounds (measured by FSM eligibility) make more progress in grammar schools than non-selective schools, but at the expense of pupils from low-income backgrounds that do not attend grammars. While it is a legitimate policy goal to further stretch academic attainment among the already-high-attaining, Reform believes it is not the most pressing issue facing the education system. Instead, the Government should focus on policies to reduce the attainment gap between pupils from high and low-income families. If an expansion of selective education is pursued, the public should be aware that any benefit to pupils with higher attainment would likely be at the expense of pupils with low prior attainment.
2. Pupils from low-income backgrounds make more progress in grammar schools, but less progress in secondary moderns than they would have had in a non-selective school in a non-selective area.
c. Research by Education Datalab (2016) shows that pupils that attend a grammar school make more progress than they would have in a non-selective school. However, those that attend non-selective schools in selective areas make less progress. More research is needed to examine whether this performance disparity is systematically higher or lower in selective or non-selective areas.
d. The attainment gap between those eligible for free school meals (FSM) and all other pupils is higher in non-selective schools than grammar schools. This is not surprising because research shows grammar schools have a lower proportion of pupils with FSM and, particularly, lower proportions of pupils that are long-term disadvantaged.
e. There is a stronger association between deprivation and GCSE performance in some selective areas (e.g. Kent) than on average across the country. This does not imply a causal effect of grammar schools on attainment disparities but does, however, suggest that grammar schools are not the answer to addressing the attainment gap.