Government’s grammar school funding won’t improve children’s outcomes

By Nuffield Foundation

Grammar school pupils do not gain any advantage over children who do not attend a grammar school by age 14, according to a new Nuffield-funded study from UCL.

In the first study of its kind, researchers from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) looked at a range of social and emotional outcomes, including young people’s engagement and well-being at school and their aspirations for the future, in addition to educational attainment levels, to determine the benefits of attending a grammar school.

After comparing how grammar and non-grammar school pupils faired across a range of cognitive, social and emotional outcomes, researchers found attending a grammar school had no positive impact upon teenagers’ attitudes towards schools, self-esteem, future aspirations or their English vocabulary.

“Our findings suggest that the money the government is planning to spend on grammar school expansion is unlikely to bring benefits for young people. Even those children who are likely to fill these new places are unlikely to be happier, more engaged at school or have higher levels of academic achievement by the end of Year 9,” said lead author of the study, Professor John Jerrim (IOE).

Co-author, Sam Sims (IOE) added, “Schools across the country are already hard-pressed financially. Our research suggests that the government would be better off directing their money towards areas of existing need, rather than expanding grammar schools.”

The paper analysed data from 883 children in England and 733 children in Northern Ireland from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) who had similar academic achievements at primary school and came from families with similar incomes and education levels.

To assess cognitive outcomes, the researchers looked at the results of tests children had taken in English, Mathematics, verbal and non-verbal reasoning at ages 3, 5, 7 and 11 as well as a vocabulary test at age 14. Children’s social and emotional outcomes were based on answers given on a series of questionnaires at ages 11 and 14 about mental health, engagement at school, well-being and interaction with peers.

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation added, “These findings are important because they show for the first time the impact of attending grammar schools on a wide range of outcomes, such as young people’s self-confidence, academic self-esteem and aspirations for the future. The evidence shows that at age 14, there is no benefit to young people of attending grammar school in these respects.

“In addition, we know from previous evidence from this study that the use of private tutoring heavily skews access to grammar schools in favour of wealthier families, dispelling the myth that they increase social mobility. In light of this evidence, it is increasingly difficult to understand the government’s rationale for spending money on expanding selective education rather than on improving education for all young people.”

The researchers will be continuing to investigate socio-emotional outcomes for children in grammar and non-grammar school areas and build on recent findings showing that grammar schools are no better or worse than non-selective state schools in terms of attainment, but can be damaging to social mobility.

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