No Academic Benefit to Attending Partially Selective Schools

A new study shows that students who attend at partially selective schools in England do not achieve any better results than students in non-selective schools. It found that some results for students with high or low prior achievement are worse at partially selective schools than for their peers at non-selective schools.

The study found that student performance in partially selective schools is, at best, the same as the performance of similar pupils in non-selective schools. The average probability of a student achieving expected progress in both English and mathematics did not differ significantly between the partially selective and non-selective schools. However, the probability of students obtaining five good grades on the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), including English and mathematics, is lower in partially selective schools

A key finding is that students with high prior attainment make less progress in maths at partially selective schools than their peers at non-selective schools. Also, students with low prior attainment are significantly less likely to achieve five good grades on the GCSE, including English and maths, than their peers in non-selective schools.

The study concluded:

Overall, the main message from this research is that partially selective schools are no better in terms of pupil outcomes than nonselective schools. According to some measures they are worse. [p.10]

It also found that some partially selective schools have over-complex admissions policies and over-subscription criteria that are lengthy and difficult to navigate and which may act as an additional barrier to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The study was published by the UK National Foundation for Education Research and compared the results of pupils at partially selective schools with comparable students at similar, non-selective schools. It included controls for prior attainment and other student characteristics. The analysis was based on data from 38 partially selective schools in England with levels of selection varying from 12 to 45 per cent of students on the basis of ‘ability’ or ‘aptitude’, but are not wholly selective grammar schools.

As in Australia, partially selective schools in England admit a proportion of students by academic ability and/or subject aptitude and a proportion by commonly used non-selective criteria. A consultation paper by the UK Department of Education published last year proposed relaxing restrictions on selective education. If implemented, it would be the first increase in selection by ability in English schools for twenty years.

Trevor Cobbold

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