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Higher Education Policy Institute report on access: the debate rages on

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 January 2019

Lindsey Macmillan, Matt Dickson, Simon Burgess.
We appreciate the response by Iain Mansfield on WonkHE to the widespread criticism of his paper on selective schooling. However, the points we made about the dataset used and the methods employed remain.
A major critique that has yet to be answered is the inappropriate comparisons made when analysing progression to HE. The key part of the argument about the effectiveness of selective schools is hinged on analysis that is far too simple to support the strong statements made. Mansfield returns to the 39% vs 23% rates of progression from selective compared to non-selective areas in his response. The fact that he again attributes these large differences in progression rates directly to the schooling systems, rather than other factors involved that muddy the waters, is a basic stats mistake. The comparison group of all non-selective areas is wrong. If instead the (more…)

How evidence-based are the Conservative manifesto proposals on grammar schools?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 May 2017

Alice Sullivan
The Conservative manifesto confirms Teresa May’s pledge to reintroduce grammar schools, as part of a drive to turn Britain into ‘The World’s Great Meritocracy’. But does this claim stand up to scrutiny?
As has been widely rehearsed in public debate ever since the Conservative government published its schools green paper back in September 2016, the essential reason that grammar schools are such an unlikely tool for promoting social mobility is that working class kids are far less likely than their more privileged peers to attend them. The wider evidence base provides no findings that suggest that selection will help Britain to tackle educational inequality and increase social mobility. Among other sources, a review of the evidence published by Parliament, produced by Parliament’s in-house source of independent analysis, makes this clear.
So, how does the Conservative Manifesto justify the claim that (more…)

Grammar schools: why academic selection only benefits the very affluent

Blog Editor, IOE Digital9 March 2017

Image 20170308 24187 dsouv9

Simon Burgess, University of Bristol; Claire Crawford, University of Warwick, and Lindsey Macmillan, UCL
With the recent news that more than £500m has been set aside by the UK government for new free schools – many of which could well become grammar schools – the selective schooling debate is firmly back on the table. The Conversation
This £500m includes a one-off payment of £320m which will be allocated to help set up 140 new free schools. This comes on top of the already promised £216m which will help to rebuild and refurbish existing schools. The 140 new schools are in addition to the 500 already pledged to be created by 2020, and will pave the way for a new generation of grammar schools.
The cash boost comes as a schools white paper will be published over the next few weeks. It will include plans to reverse the ban on new grammars. The ban has been in place for nearly (more…)

Independent schools and social mobility: no easy answers

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 November 2016

Geoff Whitty and Emma Wisby. 
There’s now just under a month for people to give their views on the government’s schools green paper proposals. If the impassioned public debate it has generated is anything to go by, Department for Education officials will have a lot of consultation responses to read. They will also have much thinking to do about how the behaviour of different parts of the education system would most likely change in response to the proposals, and the likely implications of that for achieving the aims behind them, especially Theresa May’s much vaunted commitment to increasing upward social mobility.
In broad terms, what the green paper proposals do is to accept at face value an existing hierarchy of secondary schools with regard to academic attainment: elite independent schools at the top, followed by grammar schools, high performing non-selective schools, and less well performing non-selective schools and a few studio schools with rather different ambitions at the bottom. They reinforce the legitimacy of this hierarchy by, in theory, removing the post code/house price or school fees barrier to the most academically able and engaged children accessing schools at the top end, regardless of background. Linked to this is an apparent intention to create more space ‘at the top’.
A particularly notable feature of the green paper in this regard is its ambition to harness the independent schools sector (more…)

Grammar schools: can Artificial Intelligence create a fairer way to assess children?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 September 2016

Rose Luckin.
Theresa May’s plans for new or expanded grammar schools in England have brought a torrent of comment, debate, criticism and rhetoric since these plans were inadvertently revealed last week. Most of the discussions seem to have focused on whether or not grammar schools are the right mechanism to aid social mobility. This is an extremely important issue, but let’s put the rights and wrongs of selection and grammar schools to one side for a moment and look at the eleven-plus examination itself.
The eleven-plus is the key to the door of one of the 164 grammar schools in England, or one of the 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland. The exam is sat by children in their last year of primary school and it varies depending upon where in the country it is taken. In fact, the situation is very complicated, with a wide range of approaches even within the same county. For example, in Yorkshire there are three Local Authorities with grammar (more…)

Grammar schools: the rise and fall of ‘evidence-informed policy’?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 September 2016

Geoff Whitty and Emma Wisby. 
In her first major foray into domestic policy as Prime Minister, Theresa May has offered us more grammar schools. Not a return to the selective system of education that existed in England prior to the 1960s and still exists in modified form in a small number of local authorities; not the grammar school in every town envisaged by John Major in 1997; but new grammar schools where parents want them as part of the diverse mix of secondary schools that has developed in England over the past 30 years. We know that this would entail relaxing the restrictions on new or expanding grammar schools, as well as allowing existing non-selective schools to become selective in some circumstances. A fuller set of proposals will be subject to consultation in the light of a new Green Paper.
Our concern here is what to make of this development in relation to the rhetoric of evidence-based or evidence-informed policy that has been espoused by politicians of all three major political parties for some time now. On the face of it, it looks like a particularly stark illustration of how policy is in fact more often driven by ideology and the personal experiences and preferences of policy makers and their advisors – as well as the internal management of party politics. This is a point we made in our publication earlier this year, Research and Policy in Education. The conduct and outcome of the EU referendum (more…)

Selection at 11 – a very English debate

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 December 2014

Chris Husbands
Originally posted on SecEd
It is a persistent undercurrent in English educational debate, but it is peculiarly English: should academic selection at the age of 11 be restored?
Boris Johnson, perhaps in response to perceived UKIP pressure, has declared himself in favour of more grammar schools, and Teresa May, more cautiously, has welcomed plans for a satellite grammar school in her constituency of Maidenhead. In Kent, the Weald of Kent grammar school is preparing a new proposal to establish what is either (depending on your view) a new grammar school in Sevenoaks or a satellite site in Sevenoaks.
The arguments for restoring grammar schools are couched in terms of opportunity and social mobility: Boris Johnson called them mobilisers of opportunity. But the evidence to support this is almost non-existent. (more…)

Why do grammar school systems increase inequality?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 June 2014

Lindsey Macmillan (IOE), Matt Dickson (University of Bath), Simon Burgess (CMPO)
The role of grammar schools is still a hotly contested topic in education policy in England. We contribute to this debate by showing that earnings inequality is higher under a selective system in which pupils are allocated to secondary schools based on their performance in tests at age 11. While selective systems have declined since their heyday in the mid-1960s, a number of areas retain a selective system and some believe that this system should again be expanded.
In our recent paper, we moved away from typical questions around grammar schools such as whether access to them is fair (it isn’t) and what the impact of grammar schools is for the marginal student (debatable), to ask about the longer term impacts of these types of systems on earnings inequality.
Using a nationally representative panel data source, Understanding Society, we considered the adult earnings distributions of over 2500 individuals born between 1961 and 1983, comparing those who grew up in an area operating a selective schooling system to those who grew up in very similar areas operating a comprehensive schooling system.
We ensure that the areas we are comparing are very similar by matching areas that are comprehensive to selective areas based on the average hourly wage, unemployment rate and proportion of private schools in both areas. The rich data source also allows us to control for things that may be driving the choice of area and the later earnings distributions, such as parental education and occupation when the individual was 14, gender, age, ethnicity and current area of residence.
We therefore compare the adult earnings of people who have very similar characteristics, live as adults in very similar areas and grew up in very similar areas: the main difference being that one area operated a selective system and the other a comprehensive system.
When we consider these two groups, then, we see that earnings inequality is greater for those who grew up in areas operating a selective system compared to those who grew up in comprehensive areas.
Comparing individuals of similar characteristics, the variance of earnings (2009-2012) for those who grew up in selective areas is £29.22 compared to £23.10 in non-selective areas. Put another way, the difference in pay between those at the 90th percentile of the wage distribution and those at the 10th percentile for those who grew up in a selective system is £13.14 an hour compared to £10.93 an hour in comprehensive systems.
On a personal level, if you grow up in a selective system and end up with earnings at the 90th percentile, you earn £1.31 more an hour (statistically significant) than the similar individual who grew up in a comprehensive system. At the other end of the scale, if you grow up in a selective system and don’t do so well – earning at the 10th percentile, you earn 90p less an hour (statistically significant) than the similar individual who grew up in a comprehensive system.
We can also compare the 90-10 wage gap between selective and non-selective areas to the overall 90-10 wage gap in the sample. As noted, in selective areas the 90-10 wage gap is £2.21 an hour higher than in comprehensive areas. This accounts for 18% of the overall 90-10 wage gap in our sample. So selective systems account for a large proportion of inequality in earnings. The message is clear. Grammar systems create winners and losers.
There are also interesting differences by gender. If we look separately at males and females, we see that males in selective systems at the top of the earnings distribution do significantly better than their non-selective counterparts (£2.25 an hour) while there is no difference for those at the bottom of the earnings distribution.
For females, the picture is the opposite. Females growing up in selective systems who do well look very similar to successful females from non-selective systems but those who do badly earn significantly less (87p an hour) than their comprehensive system counterparts. We think this could be because males were outperforming girls at school for the cohorts we consider and so more males attended grammars and more females attended secondary moderns within selective systems, although we cannot observe this directly.
What lies behind these differences? Inequality in earnings comes from inequality in qualifications and these in turn might derive from differences in peer effects and teacher effectiveness between the systems. We speculate that in the 1970s and 1980s more able teachers might have been more effectively sorted in a selective system into schools with high attaining pupils. The evidence on peer effects in the UK is mixed but the evidence on teacher effectiveness points to this as a possible key mechanism.
Whatever might be driving this phenomenon, our research shows that inequality is increased by selective schooling systems. If this is combined with evidence that sorting within selective systems is actually more about where you are from rather than your ability, then selective systems may not be the drivers of social mobility that some claim. The pros and cons of a system which creates greater inequality will doubtless continue to be passionately debated. What we cannot ignore is that there are losers as well as winners in this story.
 

Ofsted, school accountability and the most able students

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 June 2013

Chris Husbands
OFSTED’s report on the progress made by the most able children in non-selective secondary schools has hit the headlines, finding that more than a quarter (27%) of previously high-attaining pupils had failed to achieve at least a B grade in both English and Maths. For the Daily Mail, this is evidence of the failure of the comprehensive system; the Daily Telegraph reported calls for secondary schools to set pupils from the beginning of year 7. The report is in practice – as reports always are – more complex than the press release headlines, but it still makes sobering reading: a significant number of those who do exceptionally well at the age of 11 do not perform to expectation by the age of 16.
The first observation to make is that whilst the report focuses on non-selective (comprehensive) schools, it includes some glancing references to selective (grammar) schools that suggest all is not well there either: in comprehensive schools, 35% of those who secured level 5 or above in both English and Maths went on to secure an A or A* at GCSE, whereas the figure was 59% in grammar schools. But this means that 41% of those who secured a Level 5 at age 11 and went on to selective secondary education did not secure an A or A* at GCSE.
For over 20 years in assessing English secondary schools, we have held schools to account based on the proportion of 16 year olds who move across a threshold of GCSE grade C or above. In accountability terms, there are no further incentives for schools to address the needs of their highest attaining young people. There are, however, many disincentives for schools not to address the needs of middle attainers. In these circumstances, it’s not terribly surprising that the needs of the highest – and, indeed, the lowest – attainers may have been neglected.
Much of the press debate has focused on the issue of setting or – a different concept entirely – streaming, arguing that grouping children by ability would address the problem. In fact, the evidence is much more nuanced on this. In practice, all classes turn out to be mixed attainment classes – the only point at issue is the breadth of the attainment span in any given class. Once this point is accepted, the issue is about how teachers provide for pupils of varying talents and attainment, and, though it has barely been reported, the OFSTED report stresses the importance of well-focused teaching, and the identification tracking of individual pupils.
And there’s a further point: over the same twenty year period, policy and press discussion has tended to divide schools into “successful” and “failing” schools. The OFSTED report on higher attainers demonstrates that it’s a lot more complex than this: it turns out that “successful” schools are often no more successful in meeting the needs of very high attaining pupils than less successful schools. And, for all the difference between comprehensive schools and grammar schools, if grammar schools are not securing the highest grades for two-fifths of their highest attainers, the observation holds there: they, too are just not doing well enough with higher attainers. Put slightly differently, it does not matter much which school you go to, but it may matter a great deal who teaches you when you get there. In English education, within-school variations in pupil attainment are more significant than between-school variations.

In selective Bucks, an academy goes comprehensive

Blog Editor, IOE Digital27 April 2012

Stephen Ball
Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden’s seminal study of grammar schooling in Huddersfield, Education and the Working Class, was published by Penguin books exactly 50 years ago. Focused on the experiences of 88 working class children, it is about class mobility, class inequality and social waste, and what Jackson and Marsden describe as a “blockage” – selective education. The authors had both attended the grammar school which is at the centre of the research and Alan Bennett, another “local lad”, has acknowledged that the book provided the basis for his play The History Boys, which is set in Cutlers’ Grammar School, Sheffield, a fictional boys’ school.
What Education and the Working Class demonstrates is how thoroughly and insidiously – and damagingly, for some young people – the grammar school is a middle class institution, a “natural extension” of middle class home life as the authors put it. The grammar school was, and remains in a few places in England, a conduit of class advantage, a privileged site within which middle class cultural capital and economic investment in coaching and tutoring could be readily converted into qualifications and symbolic capital.
All of this has been rehearsed again this month in the admission by Buckinghamshire County Council that their 11+ examination carries an inherent bias which works in favour of “the affluent”. Perversely the Buckinghamshire revelation came about as a result of the insertion into the county system of a conversion academy, Highcrest, which will become the first comprehensive school in the County, with control over its own admissions policy.
Education Secretary Michael Gove announced in December that parents will be stripped of the right to object to the expansion of grammar schools, under a new school admissions code laid before Parliament. So it is ironic that one bit of government policy – support for grammar schooling – is being called into question by another bit – the extension of academy status to more, perhaps all, schools.
We might think about whether this says something about the lack of “thinking through” of policy by its makers or wonder how the support for grammar schools relates to the government’s other commitments to social mobility and tackling social disadvantage through education, or ponder what Jackson and Marsden might think about the fact that Buckinghamshire is getting its first comprehensive school 50 years after they argued in their book that the first step towards creating “open”, “bold and flexible” schooling would be “to abandon selection at eleven, and accept the comprehensive principle” (p 246). Who would have thought that the academies policy would be a vehicle for comprehensivisation?