High and low attainers do worst in fully selective areas, new data reveals


Pupils with low and high prior attainment are less likely to pass five GCSEs in fully selective areas, a Schools Week analysis of government data can reveal.

High and low-attaining pupils had higher GCSE pass rates in areas without selection or with partial selection, calling into question the reliability of using the blunt pass rate to push for grammar schools.

Schools Week crunched the numbers after Conservative MP Graham Brady requested the GCSE pass rate for selective, partially selective and non-selective areas.

Selective areas have the highest pass rate – a fact used in subsequent parliamentary discussions on grammar schools.

But Nick Gibb, minister for school standards, refused to release the information following a written question from former shadow education secretary Lucy Powell, stating it was not “government policy” to publish the data.

Grammar schools could boost the performance of “poor but bright” pupils by almost 10 per cent

Our disclosure comes just weeks after ministers seized on a report by ResPublica think tank into education in Knowsley, Liverpool, which found grammar schools could boost the performance of “poor but bright” pupils by almost 10 per cent.

But Powell, a high-profile critic of the government’s plans to open more grammar schools, said Schools Week’s analysis showed ministers would “absolutely fail” to tackle the education gap between low-attaining pupils and their peers “if they do not follow the evidence and champion policies that improve attainment for all.

“As this data shows: a comprehensive education in a non-selective area helps low-attaining children the most compared with their peers in fully selective areas. High-attainers also do worst in fully selective areas compared with their peers in other areas.

“Rather than take us back to the past and fixate on selective education accessed by tiny, tiny numbers of disadvantaged pupils who are already high-attainers, ministers must work to ensure we have enough excellent teachers with the proper resources to benefit all children.”


The data shows that in non-selective areas, 7.8 per cent of pupils who achieve below a level 4 in key stage 2 tests go on to achieve the five GCSEs benchmark, compared with 7.2 per cent across the partially selective areas in England and just 6.8 per cent in fully selective areas.

On average, 60.6 per cent of pupils of medium ability – those who reached level 4 at key stage 2 – achieved the benchmark in fully selective areas, compared with 52.4 per cent in partially selective areas and 51.7 per cent in non-selective areas.

Of high-achieving pupils – labelled as such because they achieved above level 4 – 89.6 per cent achieved five GCSEs in non-selective areas and 89.9 per cent reached it in partially selective areas. The proportion meeting the benchmark in fully selective areas was 89.1 per cent.

A Department for Education spokesperson said grammar schools had a “track record of closing the attainment gap between children on free school meals and their better-off classmates, and 99 per cent of grammars schools are rated good or outstanding.

“We want all children, whatever their background, to have access to an education that will unlock their talents. That’s why we will scrap the ban on new grammar schools and make more good school places available, to more parents, in more parts of the country.”

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