Do selective schools make any difference?

New scientific research suggests that attending a selective school makes no difference to pupils’ GCSE results once social and genetic factors are taken into consideration.

Hands answering questions
For years researchers have attempted to answer the question, 'Does going to a selective school really make a difference to a child’s results?'There is a general perception that the answer is, of course, yes. Attending a grammar school amongst high-performing peers leads to academic success and guarantees of a successful future, or does it?

Comparing private, grammar and non-selective state schools

Gathering and analysing the results is a lot more complicated than one would think but new research published in the npj Science of Learning suggests that grammar schools are not the fast track to success that many of us believe that they are.The study, which compared private, grammar and non-selective state schools concludes that selective schools make no difference to a pupil’s achievement at GCSE level.
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The research examined pupil’s socioeconomic status, genetics, IQ, prior achievement and GCSE results and the results were interesting: it suggests that once all of the above factors are taken into consideration, the seven per cent difference in GCSE performance between selective and non-selective schools is reduced to less than one per cent.

Are selective schools adding value?

Author of the report, professor Robert Plomin of King’s College London, said, “It’s very surprising for people to find out that [selective] schools aren’t adding value. They take the kids that do the best at school and show they do the best at school. It’s an entirely self-fulfilling prophecy.”But the report should be taken with a pinch of salt according to experts. Gil McVean, professor of Statistical Genetics at the University of Oxford, said, “What [the report shows] is that there is a correlation between school type and other factors (including prior attainment etc) and GCSE outcome. It doesn’t mean that attending a school of a particular type isn’t important – it just means you can’t tease out the contribution of the non-genetic factors.” 
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Improving social mobility in the UK 

In 2008, The Sutton Trust ­– a foundation which aims to improve social mobility in the UK through research and advocacy – produced a report which aimed to gather together and analyse the results of many studies comparing selective and non-selective education. The main findings said, “Pupils who attend grammar schools appear to achieve between zero and three-quarters of a GCSE grade per subject more than ‘similar’ pupils in other schools.“Whether or not the pupils who are unsuccessful in applying to grammar schools achieve any less than they would if there were no grammar schools is much harder to say.“Hence, on the basis of KS4 performance at least, there do not appear to be strong grounds for abolishing selection as it currently operates. Of course, we must remember that our analyses have been limited to qualifications achieved at KS4 and say nothing about other effects of selection, such as affective outcomes or longer-term life consequences.”The new research will play into the hand of the anti-grammar establishment but with grammar and private schools consistently producing exam results that top the education rankings, they will remain a firm choice for aspirational families.

Think outside the box

Explore what the future holds for global mobility teams. Don’t miss our Festival of Global Mobility Thinking on 11 May 2018. The full-day interactive event will feature a host of speakers, exhibitors and roundtables to explore how innovation and new technologies are driving companies through a rapidly evolving business landscape. Book now.Gala Awards Dinner, Thursday 10 MayJoin us for a night of celebration at the UnderGlobe beneath Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London SE1 9DT. Book here.
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