Grammar school expansion still locking out the poor

It’s a busy time for Satish Pakki, a telecoms solutions architect, and his daughter, Vanshika, as they prepare for her 11-plus test in September. The Guardian reports

Preparations entail weekly tuition in maths and English, and monthly mock tests at a local tuition centre. Vanshika is applying to Kendrick school in Berkshire – one of 16 grammars given funds to expand under a flagship government policy aimed at improving social mobility.

As a result, Kendrick, a girls’ school, is prioritising pupils from postcodes where it says levels of disadvantage are higher – and they don’t include Lower Earley in Reading, where the family live.

“I’m not saying we should have preference, but they should treat everyone equally,” Pakki says. “If my daughter doesn’t get in to Kendrick because children from more disadvantaged homes are being prioritised, then that’s fine. But I don’t think they are.”

However, according to the data scientist James Coombs, from Comprehensive Future, a campaigning group for fair school admissions, at some schools only two or three of the 30 new places will go to pupil premium students – those looked after by local authorities or from poor homes. His analysis is based on a summary of schools’ plans to ensure new places go to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, recently published by the government.

Coombs concludes that none of the schools have reserved a proportion of places for pupils from poorer backgrounds, though some have said that if these pupils pass the entrance test, they will be admitted ahead of their better-off peers, and some have lowered the pass mark for poorer pupils. Just one, Altrincham grammar school for boys, has a target – its aim is for 15% of its year 7 students to be entitled to pupil premium by 2023.

Using free school meals’ data alongside test scores provided by the University of Durham, which sets the 11-plus tests, Coombs calculates that at Kendrick – his local school – just three out of 32 additional places are likely to go to girls eligible for free school meals. That’s despite the fact Kendrick has lowered its pass mark by five points for poorer pupils.

Jim Skinner, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association, said campaigners complaining there were too few poorer pupils in grammar schools were missing the point. He said official figures showed that while 12% of pupils who were not disadvantaged achieved a high level of attainment in reading, writing and maths, just 4% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did so.

“We are fully supportive of the long-term goal of getting as many disadvantaged children in grammar schools as there are in the areas where those schools are. The work grammar schools are doing will help to close that national gap, but you can’t overnight have the same percentage of disadvantaged children in grammar schools as you have nationally,” he said.

Read the full article Grammar school expansion still locking out the poor

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