By Danni Christie
The PM’s decision to expand grammar schools in the UK is based on the idea that grammar schools help to improve social mobility. This is an important issue, with research showing that A level students eligible for benefits are half as likely as their peers to attend Russell Group universities.
As an economics student, whilst studying the UK economy I have been made aware that the UK does not provide the same opportunity for social mobility as some of its neighbouring countries. If grammar schools are so called ‘beacons of excellence’ combating this problem, then surely Britain, the pioneer of grammar schools, should have seen better results?
It’s true that with grammar schools, talented students whose families cannot afford to send them to independent schools have a chance to flourish and are given opportunities to develop amongst other pupils with a similar academic ability, minimising the gap between them and privately educated students. It’s also true that this discourages some parents from sending their children to private schools in their senior years, in favour of grammars. Therefore, in this way, the gap between the upper class and the average student is lessened.
However, this is no good for those in the lowest income sectors! They are still at a disadvantage due to not being able to afford as much private tuition for the 11+ exam, and perhaps also seeing a fall in the quality of education at local comprehensive schools, who by default, are forced to try and accommodate students who are at a slight academic disadvantage.
It must be acknowledged that when you rank children by their ability, and separate them into different institutions whilst doing so, there will undoubtedly be a growing social divide between them. On the other hand, studies have shown that there are pre-existing differences between standards of comprehensive schools across the country. This is largely dependent on local house prices, so to a degree, discrimination of education according to wealth already exists and it could be argued that grammar schools do not change anything at all.
Let’s compare the UK grammar school system to that of others around the world. In Shanghai, China, they have a minimum education level that they expect all students to achieve. To ensure this, they put their best teachers in the worst schools, so that everybody gets a fairer shot at reaching the same threshold.
Overall, it seems like any advantage given to those attending grammar schools is balanced out by the disadvantage for those who are unable to attend, so they do not really improve social mobility. Personally, I am in favour of an alternative system such as the one currently in place in Shanghai. As this does not seem to be on the government’s agenda any time soon, I suppose grammar schools are the next best alternative, as they do provide an academic environment for talented middle/lower class students to thrive in, and an opportunity they may not have had otherwise.
*This article is the personal opinion of the author and does not represent any official views of CoachBright