Selection doesn’t help social mobility

The latest Report from the Education Policy Institute, headed by former Lib Dem Education Minister, David Laws states at the end of the summary:

‘Overall, our analysis supports the conclusions reached by the OECD for school systems across the world – there is no evidence that an increase in selection would have any positive impact on social mobility.’ Page 5

That just about says it all. The rest is an interesting read and shows the strength of feeling in some areas about the issue of re-introducing selection, mostly, however, areas where there are already low levels of disadvantage. The authors conclude that;

We therefore conclude that it will be difficult for the government to identify areas for grammar school expansion that will:

  • avoid damage to pupils who do not access the new selective places; and
  • have public demand for new selective places. Those locations that do remain are unlikely to be areas of high disadvantage. A more promising approach in the most disadvantaged and low attaining areas may therefore be to focus more effort on increasing the quality of existing non selective school places, as has been successfully achieved in areas such as London over the last 20 years

The message seems to be, find out what worked in London and decide how it can be transferred to the rest of the country rather than create more selective schools. This is a rational and evidence based suggestion. However, this isn’t an issue where the government is probably very interested in the evidence. The aim of introducing more grammar schools was political; to shore up the right wing of the Conservative Party and attract back into the fold UKIP voters that were enticed towards voting for that Party because it offered them the notion of re-introducing grammar schools.

However, the question remains, in a national education service, such as we now have in England, what are the rules regarding who decides the shape of the education system? Is there to be any local consultation or can someone with no local ties to an area submit a bid to the DfE to open a selective school regardless of the consequences on the other schools in the area? Some clarify would be helpful. Can this type of decision create extra costs for council-tax payers through additional transport costs? If so, it would seem unfair if there was no local say in the matter. And what of the fact that many selective schools are single-sex schools. Does it matter if new selective schools impact upon the gender balance of other schools in the area?

Nick Gibb, the current Minister recently told the Education Select Committee that new selective schools would be established in response to parent demand. We don’t know how that demand is to be measured or the cost of collecting the information. What we do know is that time spent on the grammar school project at the DfE could have been better spent on other more urgent issues.



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