//Grammar schools contaminate comprehensive schooling areas

Grammar schools contaminate comprehensive schooling areas

By |2017-10-23T13:17:38+00:0011th August 2016|Admissions|

One of the reasons that decisions to open new selective schools should not be devolved to local decision-makers is that it affects pupils and schools in other local authorities. This is because families are able to seek a school for their child in a different local authority to the one they live in, thanks to the 1989 Greenwich Judgement. About 1-in-5 pupils at grammar schools cross local authority boundaries each day.

This means that ‘grammar school areas’, defined as local authorities with selective schools, and ‘grammar school areas’, defined as areas where pupils attend a grammar school, can be two very different things. The map below highlights the local authorities containing one or more of the 163 remaining grammar schools today. The deeper the blue, the greater the proportion of secondary schools that are selective.


This second map plots the proportion of pupils in an area attending a grammar school. (Here we pool the last five years of age 11 entry to grammar schools for each middle super output area.) The spillover of, for example, the Kent grammars into East Sussex and the Lincolnshire grammars into Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire becomes apparent.


The Trafford grammar schools serve a very wide area of Manchester, Stockport, Warrington and east Cheshire. Indeed, some areas of Trafford itself rarely send a single child to the grammar schools.


The decision to retain a handful of grammar schools in Bournemouth, Poole and Wiltshire has affected the provision of all-ability comprehensive schooling in east Dorset and west Hampshire.


It is reasonable to describe the whole of south London, except for Southwark and Lambeth, as a selective schooling system since significant numbers of the highest attaining pupils are migrating to grammar schools. The opening of a new grammar school annex at Sevenoaks, within walking distance of mainline stations, is likely to increase these flows.


So, grammar schools contaminate areas where politicians had decided to implement comprehensive schooling reforms. As a result, comprehensive schools in non-selective areas find they are not truly comprehensive since they have far fewer high attaining pupils. They experience similar difficulties to secondary moderns in appealing to middle class parents (since their raw exam results are depressed) and recruiting suitably qualified teachers.



About the Author:

Rebecca Allen is an associate research fellow, having led FFT Education Datalab from its launch in February 2015 to January 2018. She is an expert in the analysis of large scale administrative and survey datasets, including the National Pupil Database and School Workforce Census. In January 2018 she took up a position as a professor at the UCL Institute of Education, leading the Centre for Education Improvement Science.


  1. James Coombs 12 August, 2016 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Editor’s note: James’s Google Map of distance travelled to school uses postcodes that contain an element of randomness, to preserve the anonymity and privacy of individual pupils. Full details of James’s methodology can be found here: http://trak.org.uk/school-catchments/

    You didn’t cover Reading where the net inflow to attend grammar schools is the highest in the country. It’s not 20%. It’s 75%!! (Office for National Statistics, June 2008, Composition of Schools in England. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151655/http:/media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/b022008pdf.pdf, page 50)

    The irony is that the Greenwich ruling was all about allowing Lewisham children to go to their nearest primary school just the other side of an arbitrary line on a map. The consequence however, has been the removal of local political accountability for provision of state education. Oops! It also paved the way for grammars to become ‘super selective’, opening up to as far afield as parents are prepared to send their children.

    This is sold as parental choice but the schools are the ones doing the choosing and it’s easy to see why. The evidence shows Ofsted reports are a reflection of the cohort rather than performance of the school (https://www.schooldash.com/blog.html#figure9a) and it goes without saying that the highest attaining 10 year olds go on to become the highest attaining 16 year olds. Grammars can guarantee both good Ofsted reports and being in the BBC’s “top 100” – just by ensuring the right type of child is admitted in the first place.

    We’re told grammars promote social mobility but, putting aside the massive elephant in the room that all that tutoring to the test really doesn’t come cheap, a child season ticket from Slough to Reading costs just short of £1k. No surprise then that Reading’s grammar schools admit 1.2% FSM children.

    But here’s an interesting thing. These grammar schools are all falling over each other to acquire Academy status which means they are governed by the 2010 Academies Act. This obliges them to take their pupils “wholly or mainly” from the area they are located in. There is map here https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1bl2hz184alHRuwt2uZRBaaz2Y00 which shows Reading school’s pupils home locations. The red and pink markers spread across an area the size of the M25 shows where the grammar school children live, whilst the other densely clustered pins show where comprehensive pupils live. All these schools are Academies. They’re all covered by the same legislation but it seems when it comes to interpreting the 2010 Act some schools are more equal than others.

  2. Peter 15 August, 2016 at 1:38 pm - Reply


    Interesting stuff, though the Reading Grammar inflow statistics are skewed quite a bit by the odd administrative geography of Reading: Reading LA is far smaller than the urban area (population of 160,000 versus 320,000 in the wider conurbation)

    Many children in Grammar schools come from parts of the Reading conurbation that are in Wokingham (Woodley, Earley) or West Berkshire (Calcot, Theale, Purley) for administrative purposes even though they are clearly part of Reading

  3. Rebecca Allen 15 August, 2016 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    The map for Reading does indeed show large inflows from Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead and Oxfordshire. The recently drawn local authority boundaries within Berkshire may well be somewhat arbitrary, but the point remains that there are parts of the Reading LA (to the south and west) where almost no children ever transfer to a grammar school.

  4. Peter 15 August, 2016 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    It’s a different point: from visual inspection of the map, most entrants to Reading’s Grammars come from the Reading conurbation and its surrounding villages, especially if you include partially selective Reading Girls school.

    I agree poor kids don’t get into the Grammar schools, and outcomes for kids eligible for FSM are also fairly bad in Reading and the rest of Berkshire (with the exception of Slough: some kind of ethnicity effect/London proximity effect I guess)

  5. James Coombs 17 August, 2016 at 8:40 pm - Reply

    Reading Girls, “Up to 42 of the 170 places may be selected by ability”. The key word is “may”. With the school in special measures I don’t think the wealthy parents are queuing up to send children there, but a good observation.

    For decades tobacco companies pointed out that the correlation between smoking and lung cancer didn’t prove causality. It’s the same with test prep tutoring and test success although you have to admit the 11+ supports a very thriving cottage industry for those who can afford it.

    Given the lack of proof I put it to the Adjudicator that not all families can afford a season tickets from Slough to Reading. He was satisfied that as Reading and Kendrick recently started to give priority to those FSM children who pass the test there was no prejudice to this social group. No analysis was done as to whether the policy would actually work however since the pass mark defining ‘grammar school standard’ (sic) is made up after the tests with the purpose of keeping the waiting list to a manageable size, about two seconds of analysis will reveal that this ‘preference’ is only afforded to FSM applicants who would otherwise be in that wafer thin band of scores which would previously put them on the waiting list.

  6. Sally Richardson 18 October, 2016 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    Something that isn’t often understood is the number of highly intelligent children don’t get through the 11-plus. I live in Kingston and went to school in the area. I didn’t take the 11-plus as I was living abroad at the time, and it was clear from the top streams and sets of my secondary modern that a lot of extremely able girls had not got into the local grammar school. Fortunately it was (and is) a good school and I have no regrets – it gave me and many others an excellent academic education. Then coaching was, I think, fairly rare. Now it is even more divisive as coaching is almost exclusively the preserve of the rich (and push). I question the whole premise that grammar schools are better, and I also question their ability to pick the brightest. In any case it devalues the abilities of many extremely able children who aren’t academic but are nonetheless important to our society (and economy).

  7. Crazy MoJo 15 April, 2017 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    Som is overflow in-t
    ain’t wat we inta
    gotta put ‘n’ end to
    it’s 11+
    11 years da failure
    Ma babe da tell yu
    Innit they craze u
    La mak paps in penswil
    Rub dub, dubber
    Da posh kisds
    Da poor go way, yo!
    Da mam dard no sway, yo
    All misray now, yo
    Thanka la data!
    Keep it national, yo
    Or it swill be no go!

  8. sayitasitis 22 April, 2017 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    From experience, I do not see a commitment that faith school places should be distributed by need, not income, ‘merit’ or religious belief – just like the 11+, in the secondary phase, religion, together with partner grammar schools have become an extreme form of selection and should be challenged.

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