Disadvantaged pupils get just 4.5% of grammar school places

CORRECTION, July 3, 2020: Comprehensive Future has informed us the figures provided for this piece are not accurate because they were based on a poorly-worded freedom of information request which they say was misinterpreted by schools. More recent census data released by the Department for Education shows the actual number of pupil premium children on roll at grammar schools in 2017 was 8.48 per cent, not 4.5 per cent as we reported. The number of schools that failed to admit a pupil premium child in 2017 was actually 1, not 22. We apologise for publishing the incorrect information.

The most disadvantaged pupils secured just 4.5 per cent of all grammar school places last year.

Data collected by anti-selection campaign group Comprehensive Future shows that of 12,341 places available at 80 grammar schools across England last September, just 564 were offered to pupils who attract pupil premium funding.

In fact, there were 22 grammar schools that failed to admit a pupil premium child in 2017, despite 28 per cent of pupils receiving the pupil premium this year.

Schools get pupil premium funding for children who have been eligible for free school meals, in care, or whose parents have served in the armed forces at any point in the past six years.

READ MORE: Grammar schools benefit from DfE’s largesse

Grammar schools are under pressure from the government to admit more of these disadvantaged pupils, and will from now on have to prove they are doing so to get hold of cash for expansion.

Many grammar schools already boast policies which “prioritise” pupils from the most disadvantaged families, but campaigners warned today that very few of these children are making it through the school gates.

Rebecca Hickman, vice chair of Comprehensive Future, said that prioritising disadvantaged children in oversubscription criteria “doesn’t work because these children don’t pass the 11-plus in the first place”.

Having such priority policies is just “cynical tokenism”, which is “encouraged by the government to try to lend some legitimacy to a fundamentally unfair system”, she claimed.

In Buckinghamshire for example, just 12 disadvantaged pupils were offered one of the 2,200 grammar school places available.

Earlier this year, the government confirmed that grammar schools will have access to £50 million more each year until 2021 if they provide a satisfactory plan for how they will become more inclusive and take in more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A fifth of all grammar schools have already claimed in consultation documents they are applying for a share of the ‘selective school expansion fund’, with the deadline for applications not closed yet.

Hickman said the government should re-think its promise to grammar schools in the light of the new research showing ‘prioritisation’ policies are ineffective.

Jim Skinner, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association, said the proportion of disadvantaged pupils in grammar schools represented an increase on the year before.

“We are confident that this trend of increasing admissions of disadvantaged pupils will continue,” he said, adding that some of the schools included in the analysis did not have a disadvantage priority for September 2017 but will introduce it for September 2018.


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  1. The factual link between Free School Meals eligibility (FSM) and lower IQ/cognitive ability is either not being recognised or ignored. The following CATs data has been published by GL Assessment.

    The national mean CATs scores, Verbal Reasoning (VR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR) for non-FSM pupils are as follows. (from a GL Assessment document report – see link at the end of this comment)

    VR – 102 (55th), QR – 101 (53rd), NVR – 102 (55th)

    But for FSM pupils the national mean scores are:

    VR – 92 (30th), QR – 93 (32nd) , NVR – 94 (34th)

    The corresponding percentiles are in brackets. These are huge and highly significant differences that readily account for the alleged disadvantaged pupils attainment gap.

    FSM students have typical cognitive abilities in the 30th – 34th percentile range and are therefore unlikely to pass the 11 plus cognitive ability test. No surprise there.

    It is easy to see why the link with social disadvantage/relative poverty and lower cognitive ability is so uncomfortable, but no reputable educational research organisation, let alone the government and the media, should be ignoring or covering up the truth.

    The way to improve these educational outcomes for ‘disadvantaged’ pupils is to replace the behaviourist teaching and learning approaches brought about by the marketisation paradigm of our education system since the 1988 Education Reform Act, with the cognitively developmental approaches that have been proven to enhance deep understanding for pupils of all abilities.

    For more on this and links to the FSM/CATs data see:

  2. Peter Read

    Comprehensive Future’s website still runs with the false information, although I have proved the cause was their incompetence or deliberate manipulation of the data, not a failure by schools. I make this charge because having presented CF with the proof they have refused to make any changes or acknowledge my analysis apart from an attack on me. All is made clear in several articles on my website, most recently here: