How grammar schools impact student outcomes

How grammar schools impact student outcomes

Grammar schools may seem like an archaic education concept to some, but they still thrive across the English-speaking world.

While their funding models and ideologies vary, grammar schools share a common selection model of admitting students on the basis of academic ability. 

Some academics have questioned whether schools with selective intake are better or worse than their non-selective counterparts in terms of student outcomes.

Studies have shown that while children who go to grammar schools may achieve better results in their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams, they may not necessarily achieve positive outcomes.

Recent research by Keele University in the UK, found that while children who intended to take the grammar school exams generally feel more positive about themselves and school, they are also more likely to have a fixed view of intelligence.

Children who were not selected to take the exam, or who failed, felt equally negative about themselves and school – which suggests that being told you are likely to fail is as damaging to self-perceptions as actually failing.

“On top of this, children who did not pass the test were more likely to believe that intelligence can be developed over time,” Yvonne Skipper, a lecturer in Psychology at Keele University, recently wrote in The Conversation.

“This is probably because believing intelligence is fixed – and that you are not one of the ‘clever’ children – is likely to make you to feel very negative about yourself.”

According to the study’s findings, passing the exam does not necessarily lead to completely positive outcomes – as the fixed view of intelligence may make the transition to secondary school work more challenging.

Stephen Gorard, Professor of Education and Public Policy, Durham University in the UK, said his team’s research shows that grammar schools make little difference to student achievement.

“Our research analysed over half a million pupil records and found that although grammar schools don’t tend to make much of a difference to children’s school performance compared to other schools, they can be very damaging to social cohesion,” Professor Gorard said.

“This is because grouping more able and privileged children in grammars then impacts on the remaining majority of children attending nearby schools.”

Professor Gorard said recent smaller studies have also shown that grammar schools are no more effective than non-selective schools – once their intake differences are taken into account.

And this is not just a UK issue.

As evidence in other countries shows, the disproportionate clustering of students within schools in terms of their ability, is a matter of concern worldwide.

“All other things being equal, research shows that school systems across the world with higher levels of segregation of students by their parental income or immigrant status have been linked to lower overall attainment and weaker progress wherever this has been assessed,” Professor Gorard said.


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