Gibb defends grammar school expansion plans at ResearchED conference

The schools minister Nick Gibb has defended his department’s plans to encourage grammar schools to expand, claiming they will result in “significantly more” help for disadvantaged children.

Although plans to open new grammar schools were dropped last year, the government has created a £50 million annual funding pot, which is on offer to grammar schools that want to expand their sites and take more pupils. In exchange, selective institutions have to prove they’re doing more to let poorer pupils in.

Following his speech this morning to the ResearchED national conference, which promotes the use of evidence in education, Gibb was asked by Schools Week about the research that had informed the government’s policy of promoting selective school expansion.

Gibb said there was “all kinds of research” that shows that the attainment gap between disadvantaged and more affluent pupils narrows in grammar schools, but said this “isn’t the issue that is behind the expansion fund”, and did not expand on his claims about evidence.

“We want any good school to be able to expand, whether that’s a comprehensive school or a grammar school, and that policy goes back throughout this government’s period in office, and indeed pre-dates us.”

He explained that the £50 million fund had been separated from the government’s £1 billion annual budget for general school expansion so that conditions could be attached specifically to grammar school expansion.

“These conditions are that we want evidence that a school is doing more to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain access to that grammar school. And if we’d had that £50 million in the £1 billion, we wouldn’t have been able to apply those conditions. That’s why it’s separated out.”

Gibb accepted the government has been criticised for its proposals, but said it was the “right decision to enable us to apply those conditions”.

“I think what we’ll see as a consequence is those grammar schools that are expanding will be doing significantly more to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds gain a place.”

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  1. Tony Parkin

    For the full facts about this claim, one of Theresa May’s favourites, see
    The key probably lies in “Accounting for pupil characteristics, research published by the Sutton Trust in 2008 found that “pupils eligible for FSM [free school meals] appear to suffer marginally less educational disadvantage if they attend grammar schools”. But it said the effect wasn’t completely clear cut because there could well be further differences between grammar school pupils and their peers not accounted for in the study.”
    As one such pupil, albeit eons ago, I would suggest the home background and aspirations of those of us that made it past the 11+ hurdle was markedly different to that of the majority of our primary school classmates. My parents saw education and the grammar school as an escape route, and I was coached accordingly. Not many were, and so went to secondary moderns. Later I encountered similar thinking amongst members of London’s immigrant communities. I suspect these parental aspirations of the FSM grammar school attendees could be the key contributory factor, and am rather surprised that the evidence shows that this could only be marginal in its impact! Probably because the children of so many in this position these days have the benefit of good comprehensive schools where their aspirations can be well met?

  2. ‘all kinds of research’ – is that the best he can do? Gibb’s an accountant but doesn’t seem to realise (or is unwilling to accept) that the reason there is no gap between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils at grammars is because all children, whether disadvantaged or advantaged, are chosen for their achievement. There is no gap in the first place.