Will it transform the chances of children?

If we are to believe the latest mutterings from Downing Street, we could see the return of grammar schools to South Yorkshire in the next few years.

School children
School children

This will please those who hark back to the ‘good old days’.

Will it, as those who champion grammar schools say, transform the life chances of children in South Yorkshire, however?

Let us not forget that Yorkshire schools are at the bottom of the performance tables for all regions in England and within Yorkshire, the South Yorkshire authorities are some of the poorest performing.

Those arguing for grammar schools say that they are engines of social mobility and out-perform comprehensive schools.

As with much government policy however, these statements have a weak foundation of evidence.

There are still grammar schools in some regions in England, so comparisons can be made with comprehensive schools.

One measure used to define the group of children from which to measure social mobility is free school meals.

Grammar schools have only 3 per cent of their student population in receipt of free school meals as opposed to 18 per cent in comprehensives.

Four times as many grammar school pupils are from the independent sector as the state sector.

Far from being an engine for social mobility, grammar schools act as cheap private-style education which benefit the more affluent rather than the less affluent.

Of course the more affluent also have the means to ‘buy in’ private tuition to pass the entrance examinations to grammar schools – hardly engineering social mobility.

As for exam performance, in all but the most affluent areas, normal state comprehensive schools, on average, actually outperform grammar schools on GCSE results.

One important statistic however is that London state comprehensives outperform not only comprehensives across the country but grammar schools also irrespective of background.

Fifteen years ago London schools were in a similar position to Yorkshire schools – bottom of the performance league tables.

The actual engine for change was an alternative approach called the London Challenge which transformed the life chances of all students.

Replicating this model in Yorkshire where schools work collaboratively would improve teaching and learning and the life chances of our young people.

Coun Wayne Chadburn

Penistone, S36