National Grammar Schools Association
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Memorandum on school admissions to the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committeefrom the National Grammar Schools Association

1. Article 2 Protocol No 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights gives parents the right to choose an education for their children ‘in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’. Although this is now part of our law (Human Rights Act, 1998), it is honoured more in the breach than the observance. The main thrust of recent government policies has been to force children to attend their local school, regardless of the religious, philosophical or academic ethos of that school. This suits the bureaucratic and political mindset, but it directly conflicts with the rights of parents.

2. We should like emphasise that the requirement by adjudicators that parents whose children are entered for the 11-plus exam must state their preferred choice of school BEFORE they know whether or not their child has qualified for a place at a grammar school are vindictive and anti-choice. This requirement clearly militates against parents who believe in ‘equality of opportunity’ as against ‘equality of result’. It also complicates the admissions system unnecessarily: without this requirement, pupils who achieve a place at a grammar school could immediately be removed from the LEAs’ admissions process to reduce the numbers in the system.

3. A fundamental point arises out of the evidence presented by Professors Coldron, Fitz and West on 10 September. In answer to a question (Q35) from Andrew Turner MP, all three professors admitted they believed that: ‘Selection in any shape or form is damaging to the education of pupils, and, therefore, if [they] had [their] way, [they] would abolish selection in any shape or form in totality.’

This is a very disturbing admission from three influential academics, who might be expected to present an unbiased view based on objective evidence, rather than their ideological beliefs. It is contrary to all objective evidence, which shows that taking the performance of grammar and secondary modern pupils together, a selective system produces results, on average, (around 10 per cent or more) better than a totally comprehensive system – see, for example, The Betrayed Generations: Standards in British Schools 1950-2000 by Dr John Marks, CPS 2000; Grammar Schools in the Twenty-first Century, NGSA 2001; and information on the National Grammar Schools Association website,

Against all the unmanipulated (ie not adjusted for value-added measures, or estimated levels of free school meals) your expert advisers are suggesting that selective schools show only ‘very tiny’ advantages in exam results over the comprehensive system. They base this observation on the work of Schagen and Schagen. But value-added places too much emphasis on intermediate results, rather than final results. Hence, value-added results often conflict with the results that come out of the system.

Amongst a great deal of other evidence showing the superiority of selective schools, Dr Marks quotes the following GCSE results:

Data for GCSE for 2002 (Statistical First Release 26/2002. 17 October 2002)


School Type
% 5+A*C
Pts/Pupil (8 best) Pts/Pupil (All)
Secondary Modern
Selective System

(Presumably ‘8 best’ and ‘All’ refer to subjects)

Dr Marks has also noted that secondary modern school pupils in England achieve GCSE results which are only slightly below those for comprehensive school pupils. Also that the secondary modern schools’ results are particularly good for English and Mathematics, where they are, on average, better than those for about 900 comprehensive schools, a third of the total. On the measure of 5 or more A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent), secondary modern schools' results are, on average, better than those for 700 comprehensive schools, a quarter of the total. Moreover, Fred Naylor has noted that since 1967, secondary modern schools have improved their percentage of pupils gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) at 6 times the rate of comprehensive schools.

It seems remarkable that neither the Select Committee, nor its expert advisers, seem to have taken any account of such evidence in their deliberations. We should also point out that information from Comprehensive Future and the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education invariably ignores evidence on standards that does not favour their ideology.

When around 50 per cent of pupils are now achieving 5 or more A*-C GCSEs, this measure is obviously unsuitable for the top 20 to 30 per cent of pupils. To measure their performance, it is necessary to look at 5 or more A*-A grade GCSEs or 5 or more A*-B grade GCSEs. For example, on 20 May 2003, Graham Brady MP received a written answer to a Parliamentary Question about the percentages of pupils gaining 5 or more A*-A grade GCSEs and 5 or more grade A*-B grade GCSEs in wholly selective areas, wholly comprehensive areas, and nationally, for the year 2002. The answer from David Miliband, the schools standards minister, was as follows:

  Wholly Selective LEAs Wholly Comprehensive LEAs National Averages
5 or more A*-A
grade GCSEs
15.1% 8.6% 9.7%
5 or more A*-B
grade GCSEs
32.1% 23.1% 24.6%

4. We should also emphasise that some grammar schools get 10 or more applicants to take the voluntary 11-plus exam for each available place. This clearly shows that parents and their children are prepared to face extremely fierce odds in the hope of achieving an education in accordance with their philosophical convictions and human rights. It also shows that parents would like the choice of more, not fewer, academically selective schools. (Of course, parents may choose to have their child educated in accordance with the comprehensive ideal, but this should be understood as a philosophical/political choice, rather than an educational choice which is based on evidence about which system produces the better academic results.)

5. All of the above is, of course, relevant to school admissions. Parents in all parts of the country want a choice of selective schools. Politicians, however, have control of taxpayers’ money. So they have a duty to supply that choice wherever possible. They also have a duty to ensure fair, acceptable and objective admissions criteria to cater for that choice.

National Grammar Schools Association
15 October 2003.