Grammar school pupils two-and-a-half times less likely to obtain elite degrees

A new study finds that private school pupils still have a monopoly over access to top universities.

A new study finds that private school pupils still have a monopoly over access to top universities

Grammar schools have often been hailed as a bridge between bright working class pupils and top universities, taking the monopoly on higher education away from private school students.

But a new report shows that grammar school attendance ‘made it no easier’ to gain an elite university degree.

The results came as part of the 1970 British Cohort Study, a long-term survey monitoring the development of babies born in a particular week of April 1970.

Researchers at the University of Manchester and the Institute of Education analysed the educational backgrounds of over 7,700 people from England and Wales.

They found that ‘grammar schooling was not linked to any significant advantage in getting a degree’ and that a private education conferred a huge advantage when it came to gaining admission to elite universities. Study subjects who attended a private school in the eighties were roughly two and a half times more likely to get a degree from a Russell Group university than a comprehensive or grammar school pupil with the same A-level results.

The researchers found that ’31 per cent of private school pupils in the 1970 birth cohort obtained a degree from an elite university, compared to 13 per cent from grammar schools, 5 per cent from comprehensives, and 2 per cent from secondary moderns.’

There were also other factors influencing a person’s chances of elite university admission. A person with at least one graduate parent was more than twice as likely to obtain a Russell Group degree, and the study also found that ‘high levels of aspiration’ in the private sector, both among parents and school administrators, increased pupils’ chances of admission.

The findings will come as a blow to Tory MPs who earlier this month called on the prime minister to lift the ban on creating new grammar schools. Peter Hitchens called the ban a ‘monstrosity’ in Monday’s Mail.

Theresa May has supported the creation of a ‘satellite’ grammar school in her home constituency of Maidenhead, and former shadow home secretary David Davis said that a ‘sharp increase ‘ in the number of grammar schools would be the only rapid way of increasing social mobility in the UK.

But according to the leader of the new study, Professor Alice Sullivan:

“Simply looking at access to higher education, rather than acknowledging the status differentials within the university sector, will tend to lead to an underestimation of the social inequalities that exist.

“This is likely to be even truer for the current generation than it was for the 1970 generation, given the great expansion of the HE system and the increased diversity of universities since 1992.”

5 Responses to “Grammar school pupils two-and-a-half times less likely to obtain elite degrees”

  1. JoeDM

    Politically motivated report conclusions.

  2. Just Visiting

    I don’t understand – the 1970 birth cohort would have gone to Uni in 1988 or so and graduated in 1991 or so.

    Why is what happened back then relevant to education outcomes 20+ years later: it’s not like education is unchanged over that period !

  3. Guest

    Facts rejected by you because of your bias.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    It’s not an isolated result, in educational research.

    The evidence is all that streaming kids pre-16 between or within schools is educationally harmful. Yes, the system needs to be set up properly, but you do that by allowing people who study education to actually get some degree of say in setting it up, rather than both the Tories and Labour micro-managing schools based on short-term goals and over-testing.

  5. CDH

    Frustratingly I can’t find a link to the study itself, but if you do read the original report about the study (on the IOE website), it makes it clear that:
    – the study shows that Grammar School pupils were more than twice as likely as a Comprehensive pupil to graduate from an ‘elite’ university(13% vs. 5%), and more than 6 times as likely as Secondary Modern pupils (13% vs. 2%). However, they have ‘normalised’ this result, saying that these differences are explained by the differences in the pupils background. However, this may be confusing cause with effect, but without seeing how this normalisation is applied, it is difficult to comment.
    – Grammar School’s did improve the attainment of their pupils (I assume even when normalised). The ‘leaky pipe’ described by the author between school attainment and HE attainment isn’t explained.

    Also, what is the definition of ‘Grammar School’ here? It isn’t clear if it is the principle of selection that is being criticized, or the institution of the Grammar Schools formerly of the tripartite system.

    It is interesting that the policy commentary from both this website and the IOE website is that ‘Grammar Schools don’t improve HE attainment, therefore re-introducing Grammar Schools isn’t the right policy’, rather than ‘Grammar Schools don’t improve HE attainment, therefore we don’t think it’s an unfair advantage for the pupils with pushy parents rich enough to pay for private tuition to pass the 11-plus’.

    Like JoeDM, I would question the motivations of the report conclusions and the coverage by the IOM (as well as leftfootforward.org).

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