There are striking differences in the propensity of different ethnic groups to gain access to grammar schools.

If we look at high achieving eleven-year-olds in the four fully selective local authorities of Kent, Medway, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire, just 29 per cent of the white British pupils who achieved a fine grade score of 5.0 on Key Stage 2 (KS2) tests goes onto a grammar school.

For Asian, black and other ethnic minority groups, these figures are 56 per cent, 61 per cent and 44 per cent, respectively.


These differences in the chances of entering a grammar school are not explained by the geographical distribution of these schools across these counties. If we compare the odds of gaining access for children of different ethnic groups living within the same neighbourhood, the differences are actually even more stark.

And there are few gender differences in the chances of attending a grammar school within these ethnic groups, except that high-scoring black girls seem to have a slightly better success rate at passing the 11-plus plus than do high-scoring black boys.

We have written before that a pupil claiming free school meals (FSM) is much less likely to pass the 11-plus than a non-FSM pupil with exactly the same KS2 score. These FSM gaps are about the same size within every ethnic group.

So much has been said and done to support FSM pupils in accessing grammar schools, yet the ethnic gap between the white population and the black/Asian populations is much larger.


Consistent FSM gaps by ethnicity does not, however, mean that FSM children from different ethnic backgrounds are equally likely to attend a grammar school.

Ethnic minority FSM pupils are, on average, higher attaining than white British FSM pupils.

For example in these four LAs, just 9 per cent of the FSM white British group have a KS2 score of 5.2 or above, but for the black and Asian FSM groups the proportions are much higher, at 16 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.

Little research has been carried out to explain why many ethnic minority groups are so successful at passing the 11-plus, though attitudes to education and cultural differences undoubtedly play a part. For example, research has reported that ethnicity minority groups are far more likely to use private tutors.

Understanding the reasons for these disparities might help us understand whether there are policy interventions to support those ethnic groups who are less successful in gaining access.

But while the idea of discounting the 11-plus qualifying score to help FSM pupils access grammars is now broadly accepted as an idea, discounting to help white British students gain access would surely be more controversial.


Data notes for data geeks:

This analysis uses the Spring Census to look at the demographics of Year 7 pupils pooled across five academic years, 2010/11 to 2014/15. The ethnic groups are: white British, Asian (including Chinese), black and other. Other includes all other white, mixed and other groups, excluding those who are refused or missing.

The KS2 data is an overall fine grade that is created by FFT, and rounded to one decimal point for the charts but not rounded for the regressions. We estimate logit regressions to check differences are statistically significant and we run these with neighbourhood fixed effects to compare differences for those living within the same neighbourhood. We treat the pupil’s neighbourhood as their lower super output area.


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