Do grammar schools close attainment gaps?


This experimental post revisits the question whether all grammar schools are effective in closing attainment gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers.

Ministers have asserted as much in recent speeches, but they are relying on a single piece of research, now more than a decade old. The Education Policy Institute has countered with qualified statistical comparisons between selective and comprehensive schools

This post explores what can be deduced about the effectiveness of individual grammar schools from published School Performance Tables data. It is divided into three sections:

  • Commentary on the evidence behind the Government’s statement and on the Education Policy Institute’s counter-analysis.
  • Experimental analysis of 2015 Performance Tables data relating to several different headline measures.
  • Comparison between these new findings and my previous Performance Tables analysis covering the period from 2011 to 2013.

The middle section is is very much a work in progress and I welcome your constructive…

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Be careful what you wish for



This extended post is about the selection green paper and the prime ministerial speech preceding it.

I come at this issue from a different position to most.

It is of course essential to ensure that the government’s proposals do not unduly disadvantage the majority of learners.

But it is equally important to consider their impact on the minority that the government expects to benefit directly from increased selection.

For the sake of convenience – and sidestepping the definitional and terminological issues – let us call them ‘disadvantaged high attainers’ or the ‘disadvantaged most able’.

The first section below sets the issue in context and explains my title. I have proposed seven core principles which I invite you to debate and dispute. Consensus would be great but, failing that, discussion helps to expose the ideological fault lines that bedevil any rational discussion of selection, or wider support for the most…

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Rescue Plan (or how to get from where we are to where we ought to be)



This post:

  • Reviews progress to date on white paper policies to improve the education of higher attaining learners
  • Considers some wider implications of the white paper’s commitment to equality of educational opportunity, regardless of background and prior attainment, and
  • Proposes a dedicated national centre, based in a leading university, to specialise in the education and progression of higher attaining learners, from reception to graduation.

There is also a leitmotif: that arguments for and against more grammar schools must always be set in the wider context of how best to educate high attainers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds


Initial reflections – a summary of sorts

Rarely have I been less confident of the prospects for securing a coherent policy response to the needs of high attaining learners, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Expectations were raised by the recognition of past ‘neglect’, the new equal opportunities vision and three…

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What’s amiss with the ITT core content framework?



This post discusses the gap between what the schools white paper said would be in the ITT core content framework and what was actually published.



In a previous post – Differentiation in the ITT core content framework (March 2016) – I described the origins of the framework and its intended focus on differentiation, including for the most able.

‘DfE should commission a sector body…to develop a framework of core content for ITT. We feel it is critical that a framework is developed by the sector, rather than by central government.’

An annex outlining starting points for a core framework includes:

Differentiation – ITT should equip teachers so they can ensure that all pupils in the class, including lower and higher achievers, should make progress and keep pace with the curriculum.’

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Sir Michael on the most able


HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw devoted his monthly commentary for June 2016 to the education of our most able learners.

He has consistently championed the education of the most able in non-selective secondary schools, having instigated two Ofsted survey reports on this topic, published in June 2013 and March 2015 respectively.

This new commentary is a reaction to the negligible progress achieved since the 2015 report. That contained similar statements about the very limited headway made since 2013.

This post examines the new commentary, setting it in the context of the two previous surveys, the 2016 schools white paper and wider education policy. It:

  • Asks why it is proving so hard for Ofsted to secure system-wide effective practice, despite new emphasis in the common inspection framework and inspection handbooks.
  • Poses some fundamental questions about definitions, terminology and our expectations of the most able learners in both primary and secondary schools…

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Exposing the implications of ‘educational excellence everywhere’



Several of my recent educational posts have mentioned the new-found commitment to ‘educational excellence everywhere’.

This was the title selected for the March 2016 white paper, but it is also the strategic goal at the heart of this government’s education policy. It should influence every part of the white paper, informing every educational decision taken while the government remains in office.

I have drawn attention to the ‘clear blue water’ between this new goal and the default position adopted by the previous coalition government, perhaps best described as ‘no child left behind’.

One is focused on supporting all learners to maximise their achievement; the other on eradicating the ‘long tail’ by concentrating disproportionately on the lower end of the spectrum, so reducing the span of achievement and improving performance against standard national benchmarks.

Both positions give due priority to closing the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged learners but, under…

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The HE white paper underwhelms on fair access



This post compares white paper plans to strengthen fair access with the proposals set out in the green paper.

It assesses each element of these plans and whether they amount to a convincing national strategy.

It also considers whether the white paper is likely to bring about a much-needed improvement in the recruitment of disadvantaged students to highly selective universities.



The higher education green paper ‘Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice’ appeared in November 2015.

My analysis: ‘Access and participation in the HE Green Paper’ (November 2015) assessed the proposed targets and the government’s initial seven-fold plan for achieving them.

More recently I published ‘A blueprint for fair access?’ (April 2016). This offered an update on developments since the green paper, including progress made against each of the seven elements in the plan.

It proposed that the…

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Ofqual’s W-turn on GCSE grade 9



Ofqual is attempting a double-U-turn on how to define grade 9 in the new GCSE scale.

This will affect the highest attaining learners in all our schools, all staff who teach them and all those who rely on GCSE grades to select high-attaining students, including university admissions staff.

It also has implications for the performance of all state-funded schools on government accountability measures, so it is not small beer.

You might be forgiven for missing this, since it was announced in the graveyard slot on Friday 22 April, while most educators’ attention was diverted to the furore over forced academisation.

A brief press release announced a second consultation on setting GCSE grade standards. We had anticipated an exercise focused on the subjects first introduced in 2018.

But Ofqual is also proposing to reverse its previous decision, already once revised, on the definition of grade 9 boundaries (and indeed grade…

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TIMSS PISA PIRLS: Morgan’s targets scrutinised



Simple_CV_Joint_animatedThis post examines ministerial targets for improving England’s educational performance by 2020, as measured by international comparisons studies.

It explores the evolution of these targets, how they might be interpreted and the prospects for achieving them given likely outcomes from the next round of reports, scheduled for publication in December 2016/2017.

  • PISA 2015 results (maths, reading and science at age 15) will be published in December 2016, some seven months hence. PISA is a triennial survey so there will be one further set of results in December 2019 before the deadline for achievement of the target.
  • TIMSS 2015 outcomes (maths and science at ages 9/10 and 13/14) will also be published in December 2016. TIMSS is conducted every four years, so the results of TIMSS 2019 should be available by December 2020, just as the deadline expires.
  • PIRLS 2016 results (reading aged 9/10) will not be published until December…

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The Fair Education Alliance: A wasted opportunity?



In April 2016 the Fair Education Alliance released its second annual report card.

This post reviews progress against the five declared impact goals, as well as the recommendations for securing stronger progress in future.


What is the Fair Education Alliance?

The Fair Education Alliance was launched by Teach First in June 2014.

It claims 55 members although the website lists only 44, while the new report card mentions 46, plus Offa who are ‘advisors to the FEA’.

Recent press releases have announced the addition of the University of Oxford, UCAS, SSAT, Allen & Overy, The English –Speaking Union, Gap Education, Challenge Partners and Ladies Who L-EARN. I think that makes 55.

Several of the participating organisations have a strong interest and involvement in access to higher education. There are four university members apart from Oxford, plus several third sector stalwarts including The Access Project, The Bridge Group, The…

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