Just six areas meet government criteria for new grammar schools, according to a study published today, that found the areas all had low rates of deprivation.

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) research found Solihull, Essex, North Yorkshire, Dorset, Northamptonshire and North Somerset are the only local authority areas that meet the government’s ‘expansion principles’ for new grammars.

Areas must have sufficient pupil numbers and clear parent demand. The government has also said the addition of grammar places should not be to the detriment of non-selective schools in chosen areas.

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But EPI found the only six areas that met the criteria all had fewer numbers of free school meals (FSM) pupils than the national average.

The government has dismissed the report as “speculative”, but David Laws, the former schools minister and executive director of the EPI, said the research highlighted “further significant challenges” for the government’s grammar plan – which ministers claim will boost the proportion of poor pupils in selective schools.

Using polling by YouGov, EPI found that support for grammar schools was much stronger in areas with relatively fewer disadvantaged pupils.

In the areas found to be strongly in favour, just 9.9 per cent of pupils are entitled to free school meals. That compared to a national average of 13.2 per cent, and a rate of 17.9 per cent in areas opposed to more grammars.

It also warned that quotas proposed by the government to get more disadvantaged pupils into grammar schools would either fail to make much of a difference to the numbers, or force grammar schools to prioritise lower-achieving pupils.

For example, the research found that the benefits of grammar schools would still be “significantly in favour” of non-FSM pupils if the government simply sought to double the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals attending grammar schools from 2.4 per cent to 6.8 per cent.

Any bid to get the proportion of FSM-eligible pupils in grammar schools up to 14.6 per cent – the national average for selective areas – would also cause problems because bright pupils not eligible for FSM could be turned away in favour of poorer pupils with lower key stage 2 scores.

Laws said the present strategy of allowing existing grammar schools to expand was “flawed” because it would lead to a negative impact on pupil attainment in most areas.

Lord O’Shaughnessy

He said very few areas would pass a series of “sensible tests based on clear public support and the absence of significant negative effects on pupils accessing non selective schools”.

Lord O’Shaughnessy, a high-profile conservative peer and former academies boss, has also intervened in the grammar debate today, claiming that evidence from existing selective areas did not support a “wholesale move to reintroduce selection”.

The former managing director of Floreat Education, who now works as a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute, said any expansion should be “deliberately and explicitly different from those selective systems currently in place”.

He called for a “small injection of academic selection into low prosperity areas where performance is poor, local capacity is weak, and there is a need for an external stimulus”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “This report is highly speculative.

“We held a consultation to help us establish how we can create more good school places for children of all backgrounds by removing the ban on grammar schools and this report is a crude attempt to second guess what that consultation will conclude.”