Despite changes to admissions procedures aimed at helping disadvantaged children gain entry to grammar schools in England, research shows that many are still struggling. In fact, a quarter of the country’s 160 state grammar schools have fewer than 5% of their pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM), compared to 22.5% of children nationwide. In contrast, only 13 of England’s 2,877 non-selective state secondary schools have fewer than 5% of pupils receiving FSM.
Data from the Department for Education was studied by the BBC, revealing that while grammar schools have made changes to their entry policies to encourage more disadvantaged children, in most cases it has failed to make a substantial difference in increasing the amount of children admitted. Sir Peter Lampl, the chair of the Sutton Trust, which campaigns for social mobility through education, added: “While most grammars have made changes to their admissions policies, this hasn’t yet translated into a dramatic improvement in access. Free school meal rates at most grammars are still well below the national average.”
Free school meals eligible students make up a high proportion of enrolments at foundation grammar schools, such as King Edward VI in Birmingham, which sets aside places for these children. For example, 25% of pupils attending King Edward VI Aston School receive free meals, whilst the King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys has admitted 24% and the School for Girls has admitted 22%. Additionally, Queen Mary’s Girls’ High School in Walsall gives priority admissions to candidates receiving FSM, and 22% of students are eligible.
Whilst the introduction of variable exam scores, priority to those receiving FSM, and “tutor-proof” aptitude tests has given State grammar schools more flexibility in selecting pupils, the number of children admitted from poorer backgrounds hasn’t changed dramatically in most grammars. “To improve access, schools should prioritise pupil premium, free school meals kids, and engage in extensive outreach in primary schools in order to encourage a wide range of applications,” Lampl suggested.
The BBC had conducted a thorough investigation that found few schools having as many as half the proportion of pupils on FSM as lived in their local authority, with most having only a fifth to a third as many. The worst cases were much lower than this; Chesham Grammar School in Buckinghamshire had just 1% of pupils eligible for FSM, despite giving priority to those children within a local catchment area. Across Buckinghamshire, 14% of children are eligible for FSM.
Rishi Sunak had said during the Conservative leadership election that he supported the opening of new grammar schools, but he has since changed that decision in favour of curriculum changes.