British schools selection policy is under review
England’s highest performing comprehensive schools and academies are significantly more socially selective than the average state school nationally and other schools in their own localities, according to a new report by the Sutton Trust today.
The average rate of free school meal (FSM) eligibility and uptake at the top 500 comprehensives – all have more than 69 percent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs in 2012 – is just below half the national average figure, 7.6 percent compared to 16.5 percent, and 15.2 percent in their respective local authorities. There are nearly 3,000 comprehensive schools nationally. FSM is a measure of the overall social selectivity of a school.
Ninety-five per cent of the top 500 comprehensives have a smaller proportion of their pupils on free school meals than their local areas, including almost two thirds (64 percent) which are unrepresentative of their local authority area, with gaps of five or more percentage points.
The analysis found 49 schools within the top 500 with a higher proportion of pupils on free school meals than the national average, though only 25 exceeded their local average. Case studies included with this release show schools that have achieved high results with significant numbers of disadvantaged pupils on their rolls.
When schools are ranked on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) measure, the top 500 is even more socially exclusive - only 7.2 percent of pupils in this top 500 are eligible for free school meals.
The report also shows that there is a big difference in the social background of pupils attending good schools that have converted to academy status (‘converter academies’) and those academies that have been established with sponsors to improve results (‘sponsored academies’). The 186 converter academies within the top 500 have significantly lower FSM intakes, averaging just 5.8 percent.
Schools in the top 500 are also more likely to be faith schools or single sex schools than the national average.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said today: “Who gets admitted to these schools matters because they are the ones most likely to attend the best universities and most likely to succeed in the top professions. They open the door to social mobility. The schools in this study, by and large, are not using forms of overt selection. But they are exercising a form of social selection.
“The most successful schools in England come in three guises. There are world-class independent schools for the small minority of 7 percent who can afford their fees. There are still 164 selective grammar schools in some parts of the country. And there are a group of comprehensives with non-selective admissions policies, but which are socially selective because of the neighbourhoods or faith communities they serve.
“The bottom line is, how good a school you go to depends on your parents’ income. We have one of the most socially segregated school systems in the developed world, an outlier with only four out of 29 advanced countries having a worse record, according to the OECD last year.
“That is why the Sutton Trust believes that schools, particularly in urban areas, should use a system of ballots – where a proportion of places is allocated randomly – or banding across the range of abilities to achieve a genuinely balanced intake. Lower income students do better when there is a mix of students of all backgrounds in a school. At the same time, independent day schools should be opened up by a state funded system of open access, and grammar schools by a combination of outreach and fairer admissions.”