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New research involving our Evidence Centre for Education has found no obvious difference in GCSE grades between regions in England who use a selective grammar-school system and those that don’t and suggests that the chances of scoring the top GCSE grades are lower in grammar-school areas.

No obvious differences

The study, undertaken in collaboration with University College London and Zhejiang University in China, assessed the potential impact of adopting an academically selective school system on overall pupil outcomes.

The team studied exam results from across England and compared the grades of pupils in local authority areas who adopt a selective, grammar school system, with those that follow a comprehensive (i.e. non-selective) system.

They found that there was no clear evidence of a positive effect of selective school systems on pupil outcomes.

In analysing nearly 500,000 separate records of pupil achievement, the team found little difference in overall exam grades between selective and non-selective local authority areas, indicating that a two-tier, selective education system does not necessarily lead to better attainment.

Harming educational outcomes

The study found that pupils in selective local authority areas who did not get into grammar school (ie did not pass the entrance exams at the end of primary school), performed slightly worse at GCSE that their counterparts in a comprehensive local authority.

Furthermore, the team also found that overall pupils in local authority areas who adopt a selective approach had a lower chance of getting top GCSE grades, than equivalent pupils in comprehensive local authority areas, suggesting that the presence of a selective education system can harm educational outcomes.

The researchers suggested this could be due to the negative effects of stress and competitiveness generated by the selective system, which could impact on pupil wellbeing.

For those pupils in selective areas who do not get a place at grammar school, they may also experience a lack of role models, a sense of failure and higher concentration of disadvantages pupils in school, which may impede progress.

No significant academic gain

Based on their study, published in Educational Review, the team argue that maintaining a selective education system is unlikely to result in any significant academic gain and could instead worsen outcomes.

Given the UK Government pledged £50 million in May 2018 to expanding grammar schools, the team argue that their research, alongside other work in this field, makes a compelling case that this would be an unwise use of public money. The team suggest such funds could be better used to address other basic educational needs and being more educational equality.

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