No evidence to support grammar school expansion

Written by: Andy Mellor | Published:
Image: iStock

The expansion of grammar school places makes no sense, says Andy Mellor – and even the secretary of state for education seems to realise this

As a product of the grammar school system you would probably expect me to welcome the announcement from the secretary of state for education to expand grammar schools places for disadvantaged pupils.

However there are some fairly strong indicators that I would have probably attained as well as I did regardless of the school I attended as I received the sort of support from home that we would want for all of our children.

In the time since the secretary of state’s announcement over the expansion of one sector of the education system, some fundamental questions have persisted in my mind and the minds of the NAHT members that I have spoken to.
The first question, given the date of the announcement, is around the timing. A matter of days earlier Damian Hinds had spoken at the NAHT annual conference (this was in early May) and had triumphantly announced a raft of measures under the heading of giving schools and school leaders control.

He addressed workload, accountability, assessment, sabbaticals and of course funding, but where was the triumphal announcement over the expansion of grammar schools? It was clearly in the pipeline but presumably was left out so that nothing could detract from the good news the secretary of state was sharing.

So if Mr Hinds knew that the proposal to expand grammar schools would get a poor reception he needs to ask himself why. In essence he probably knows why.

The main reason is that he is aware that there is no evidence to suggest that a grammar school education for disadvantaged pupils prepares them any better for exams and the world of work than a comprehensive education would.

Given that information, one could be forgiven for questioning why £50 million of taxpayers money is being spent on something for which there is no evidence of success when the nation’s school system is crumbling under the worst financial crisis I’ve known in 30 years in the profession.

Ultimately it seems to boil down to a manifesto promise which needed exercising. In other words it is ideology driving public expenditure rather than evidence-based practice. I can hear school leaders across the country, who’ve been told to base their expenditure on evidence-based practice, groaning about double standards!

However the school funding point is the critical one here. At a time when all the school leaders I have spoken to are planning staffing restructures to downsize their staff and provision because the new money coming into schools doesn’t cover the increased costs imposed by increased pension contributions, the costs of services previously supplied by now defunct local authorities and the Apprenticeship Levy, the announcement of the expansion of grammar schools is at best insensitive and at worst reckless.

As a householder living miles from the sea, if you are struggling to pay your mortgage, you are unlikely to buy a yacht! But ultimately that is the bizarre nature of this decision. Essentially the expansion of grammar schools is an unproven luxury when the fabric of our schools is crumbling. The grammar school expansion project is coming at the cost of our existing schools and the recent article in Schools Week regarding preferential funding for grammar school projects would seem to confirm an imbalance which favours one sector over another for ideological reasons (Grammar schools benefit from DfE’s largesse, Schools Week, May 2018).

The admission by the DfE that only relatively few will “benefit” from the expansion of grammar schools is further evidence that this expenditure is driven for ideological reasons rather than evidence-based.

If Damian Hinds is sincere in his wish to work with the profession to improve the outcomes of all children he has to develop a level of trust which comes via genuine honesty and integrity with the profession, and the omission of the expansion of grammar schools from his NAHT speech unpicked his seemingly genuine expression of collaboration at conference.

Damian Hinds is right. As he said at the NAHT conference: “There are no great schools without great teachers and leaders. And of course great schools thrive under great leaders – which is why I want to work with you.”

Despite a positive conference speech, the subsequent announcement on the expansion of grammar schools does not feel like the secretary of state working with the profession or listening to the great leaders within it.

Surely it would have been useful to have gained a sense of the profession’s views on the expansion of grammar schools at conference, but then again I think he probably knew what that response would have been!

  • Andy Mellor took over as the president of the National Association of Head Teachers at the union’s annual conference in Liverpool in May. He is headteacher of St Nicholas CE Primary School in Blackpool.

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
About Us

Headteacher Update is the only magazine delivered directly to every primary school headteacher in the UK. It is published six times a year, at the beginning of each term and half-term, to keep headteachers up-to-date with everything going on in primary education.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.