The budget proposal announced last week by the government comprised of increased funding for free schools, including a proposal for £320 million to be spent in creating more selective (grammar) schools. The government have voiced the belief that grammar schools could be instrumental in increasing prospects for poorer students. It will allow them greater opportunities in education that in many cases they would be excluded from because of their parents’ low income or where they live. Despite this, statistics reveal that presently in grammar schools less than 3% of students qualify for free school meals (generally used as an indicator of poverty). This supports the claim that the majority of the intake by selective schools are children from middle class families, who are more likely to perform well on selective entry tests because they have a greater chance of affording tuition. Nevertheless, the Conservative party maintain that increased funding for selective schools will act as a vehicle for increasing social mobility and providing more opportunities for children from working class families.
However, the proposal faces backlash in light of the £3 billion cuts that are being made to state schools: essentially, money is being taken from this public sector, negating opportunity to improve state schools and instead being used to further funding in free and selective schools.
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A BBC analysis of admission policies to grammar schools found that out of 163 grammar schools, only 73 (under half) of those reviewed prioritised admission to children from low income families. This raises the issue of elitism: although Theresa May has said that she wishes to make Britain a meritocracy, increasing the number of grammar schools seems an exclusive way to achieve this. Opening more selective schools does not tackle the current funding crisis in state schools and therefore disregards the need to better state schools and improve the education of their pupils.
The government aim to combat the privilege of middle class children in their admission to grammar schools by devising a national, rather than individual, entry test. This should ensure consistency and fairness in the reviewing of a child’s ability and whether they qualify for a place in a grammar school. If all selective schools have the same entry test, this should also combat any exclusivity encouraged by individual grammar schools by making entry requirements the same across the board. But is this enough?
The Labour party have criticised the school budget proposal, deeming it a ‘vanity project’ that ignores the current school funding crisis in its aim to look to the future of schools and their selection processes. In their review of the evidence in support of a surge in grammar schools, the Education Committee found weak evidence for pupils from lower socio-economic families performing of a particularly high standard. Despite the government’s claim that a greater number of grammar schools will benefit working class pupils, evidence suggests that this is not the case. Research by The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) reviews 997 state schools with over 40% of students eligible for free school meals, and has found that these schools will lose out on the most amount of money per pupil as a result of the school funding cuts.
Greater urgency lies in tackling the current school funding crisis and therefore guaranteeing that current pupils receive a better education. This would ensure that pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds who are aiming to further their education at university will have a greater chance of succeeding. It would appear that once again the government are justifying their policies and proposals by claiming that they will benefit the working class: the irony is that the real needs of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are being overlooked.