Grammar School Myths 


Following the first episode of the BBC2 Documentary “Grammar Schools: Who will Get In?” that features Townley Grammar School I thought I would respond to some of the mythology currently being shared on social media. These myths colour much of the debate and prevent any meaningful dialogue. Of course there will still be those keyboard warriors who hold their own opinion so dearly they would not consider letting any facts get in the way.


Myth 1

Grammar Schools are populated by white middle class children.

Some may well be and, if so, it’s worth looking at the local population. If this is representative of the school then the problem is the school location. Historically, affluent parents have bought homes near successful schools; this applies to all schools. As a result, inevitably the local population becomes more affluent and so does the school’s intake. This would be solved by a) having Grammars and other great schools distributed more strategically and b) providing free transport for disadvantaged students to and from school.

However, not all Grammar Schools are full of white middle class students. There is a large ethnic population in many Grammar Schools, again dependent upon the area and Townley Grammar School has a very high BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) population alongside white British and white middle class. This is called DIVERSITY.


Myth 2

Grammar Schools have a negative effect on the neighbouring secondary schools

There is evidence that in selective areas students at non-selective schools do worse. If this is in fact true, then the question should be why? Correlation does not mean causation. There is no evidence that demonstrates Grammar Schools cause this underperformance. It is true that the absence of more able and motivated students in a neighbouring school may make it harder to maintain standards but there are problems with this. Firstly, if it is true that the 11+ fails to accurately identify the most able and that when they do they haven’t got enough places, then those students must be attending the local school, unless wealthy and therefore in private education. So there are inevitably a lot more able students in these schools than is often portrayed. Even if there are far fewer then are we really arguing that such schools can only perform if they have such students? That doesn’t say a lot about those schools or schools generally. I am not suggesting an answer but arguing that there needs to be more investigation into the causes rather than a very shaky assumption.


Myth 3

Grammars fail to improve social mobility since they admit too few disadvantaged students.

These are two different points linked together. Do Grammars admit too few disadvantaged students? Partly yes if you use FSM (Free School Meals) but also only 5.9% FSM are in the upper quartile so that would be the target, not 17% national. Also it depends upon the % in the local area. That should really be the comparison.

Are they successful in social mobility? Well yes. Those disadvantaged students that enter Grammars do very well, performing as well as and often better than their peers, something not evidenced in the wider education sector. The problem is getting enough into grammars to have a significant national effect and that would entail, among other things, having more grammar school places better distributed.

However if we widen our definition to include JAMS (Just about Managing) then Grammars are representative of the national picture. These students, while not dependent upon benefits, are far from wealthy.


Myth 4

Grammars are populated by the wealthy who buy their way in through private tuition.

The basic error is assuming that those not on FSM are wealthy which is preposterous. There is no data about the financial circumstances of parents unless they trigger a disadvantage rating. What is more, the truly wealthy inevitably send their children to private schools.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that hours of tuition gives students an advantage. In fact, experience suggests otherwise. The Sutton Trust Report into Social Mobility recommends 10 hours of free tuition in Maths and English to level the playing field. This seems like a good move, so lets fund it.


Myth 5

Grammar Schools are socially selective

Of the 100 most socially selective schools in the country only 6 are Grammars. The most socially selective are often Church schools. In reality, Grammar schools can become places where the students from all social backgrounds can mix, thereby removing the social divide, not adding to it. Certainly this is not always the case but it’s not simply a Grammar School issue.


Myth 6

Grammar Schools are better resourced than neighbouring schools.

No they are not. There is no basis in any evidence to support this. In reality it is more likely that the neighbouring secondary modern or comprehensive is better resourced. In fact often to the tune of £3 million. This is largely due to the additional funding earmarked for the disadvantaged, which often sees the same student receive funding three times over. It is conceivable that in some schools with affluent families, the private donations create this impression but again that is not only Grammars and is not state funding.


Desmond Deehan


Back to Blog

Footer background