Cartoon of education as an assembly line, with bullying headmaster.

Why bringing back grammar schools will not improve social mobility

Grammar schools may promote social mobility for their students but in areas where selection takes place, the majority are not selected and are sent to secondary moderns.

The situation has changed from when grammar schools were at their height in the 1960s and 1970s: parents who want to get their children into grammar schools and who can afford to, send their children to private prep school, or pay for private tuition to “hothouse” them by teaching to the test.

Nor does the call for grammar schools take into account that students mature academically at different rates and may excel in certain subjects eg Maths and not in others, thus affecting their ability to pass the test, which itself has proved not to be absolutely reliable by any means.

More affluent parents also have the ability to move house into the catchment area – this demand puts up the price of houses in the catchment area, so creating a situation where it is the more affluent who can send their children there, although the very bright less affluent ones will always achieve, but they will be a minority in the overall numbers of children in education. What is affecting social mobility now, more than in the 1970s and 1980s, are the connections students make at public schools and through their parents’ connections and the rise of unpaid or very low paid internships, which affect the careers people can access, as the less affluent cannot be supported financially by their parents to afford them the luxury of an internship. Even the work experience that students do as part of their careers education, if any, is declining because impartial careers advice in schools has been woefully undermined by the government withdrawing all careers funding to schools after 2010. Often parents are expected to organise work experience and, again, this is affected by their social connections.

Social mobility is not being failed by the education students receive at school but by the opportunities they are offered on leaving school, coupled with the patchy level of careers advice to which they have access.

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