Grammar schools widen gap between rich and poor

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A new study by Professor Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol has come to the conclusion that Grammar schools contribute to social inequality and lead to a widening of the income gap between rich and poor.

The new study investigated the impact on earnings inequality of a selective education system in which school assignment is based on initial test scores. It found that students growing up in areas with a selective education system experience greater earnings inequality once in the labour market.

The report says, "If higher earnings inequality is coupled with socially graded access to grammar schools then it seems likely that selective systems will also reinforce inequalities across generations."

The study represents evidence of the long-term harm suffered by those who miss out on grammar school places – as well as of the impact of selective education on the communities where it has been preserved.

It found that in areas with a grammar school system, top earners are likely to earn £16.41 an hour more than those on the lowest incomes, or the equivalent of around £30,000 a year based on a typical 35-hour week.

In those areas where the education system was fully comprehensive, the salary gap was just £12.33 – a quarter less. High earners from grammar school areas were better off by £1.31 per hour on average than top earners born in similar comprehensive authorities.

Researchers from the University of Bristol, the University of Bath and the Institute of Education, University of London, who carried out the analysis said that failing to pass the 11-plus left pupils at an “immediate disadvantage” in terms of their future earnings.

The figures – which challenge claims that grammar schools help boost social mobility – were based on the average pay of the top and bottom 10 per cent of the workforce among a sample of 2,500 people born between 1961 and 1983. It found the lowest earners from areas with selective schools received significantly less than those in non-selective areas.

Professor Simon Burgess said: “Selective schooling systems sort pupils based on their ability, and schools with high-ability pupils are more likely to attract and retain high-quality teaching staff.

“This puts pupils who miss out on a grammar school place at an immediate disadvantage. In addition they will be part of lower-ability peer groups, which also affects their chances of succeeding at school.”

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