Grammar schools helped to create a more unequal society, research suggests

28 May 2014

The English grammar school system has widened the gap between rich and poor, according to a new study published today.

Researchers have reached this conclusion after analysing the pay of more than 2,500 people born between 1961 and 1983. They found a much bigger gap between the wages of the highest and lowest paid individuals born in areas with a selective education system than they did in similar local authorities that had introduced comprehensive schools.

The average hourly wage difference between the top 10 per cent and bottom 10 per cent of earners born in selective schooling areas was £16.41 between 2009 and 2012.

In otherwise similar areas that had gone comprehensive, the equivalent earnings gap was £12.33, says the research team from the University of Bristol, the University of Bath and the Institute of Education, University of London.
The researchers analysed information gathered by Understanding Society, a study that is following the lives of people in 40,000 UK households. This enabled them to take into consideration a wide range of factors that can affect individuals' earnings. These include gender, ethnicity, parents' education level and occupational class, and labour market conditions.

Even after allowing for such factors, they still found that 18 per cent of the income gap between the highest and lowest earners could be explained by the school system.

The researchers also point out that the highest earners from grammar school areas are significantly better off (£1.31 per hour, on average) than top earners born in similar comprehensive authorities. High-earning men appear to gain most from selective school systems.

At the other end of the scale, the lowest earners from areas with selective schools receive significantly less than their non-selective counterparts. The gap at the bottom of the income scale is most evident among women. The lowest-paid women from selective areas earn £0.87 less per hour than women from non-selective authorities. This may be because a disproportionate number of girls were assigned to secondary modern schools in the past, the researchers say.

Average earnings in both types of area considered are almost identical (£8.59 in selective areas and £8.61 in non-selective).

Professor Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol, who led the research, suggests that the inequality caused by selective schooling systems could be explained by the calibre of their teaching force.

"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," he says. "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."

'Selective schooling systems increase inequality', by Simon Burgess, Matt Dickson and Lindsey Macmillan, will be published tomorrow (May 29) as part of the IOE Department for Quantitative Social Science's working paper series.

Further information from:
Claire Battye, Institute of Education
020 7612 6516 / 07933 469002

David Budge, Institute of Education
07881 415362

Philippa Walker, University of Bristol
0117 928 8086

Andy Dunne, University of Bath
01225 386 319

Notes for editors
1. England still has 164 grammar schools. Fourteen local authorities currently operate selective education systems.
2. The researchers defined a local education authority as selective if more than 20 per cent of its children were assigned their school place by selection. Non-selective LEAs were those where less than 5 per cent of 13-year olds were assigned by selection.
3. Understanding Society captures important information every year about the social and economic circumstances and attitudes of people living in 40,000 UK households. Funding comes primarily from the Economic and Social Research Council. Significant additional funding has been provided by the government's Large Facilities Capital Fund and a consortium of government departments. The survey is designed and managed by a team of longitudinal survey experts from the Institute for Social and Economic Research, at the University of Essex.
4. The Institute of Education is a world-leading university specialising in education and the social sciences. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 7,000 students and 800 staff. In January 2014, the Institute was recognised by Ofsted for its 'outstanding' initial teacher training across primary, secondary and further education.  In the 2014 QS World University Rankings, the Institute was ranked number one for education worldwide.  In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the publications that the IOE submitted were judged to be internationally significant and over a third were judged to be 'world leading'.  The Institute is part of the University of London.
5. The University of Bristol is consistently ranked among the leaders in UK higher education.  Research-intensive and with an international reputation for quality and innovation, the University has over 18,000 students from over 100 countries, together with more than 5,000 staff.  Places at Bristol are among the most highly sought after of all UK universities. The Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) is a leading research centre within the University, combining expertise in economics, geography and law. The centre aims to develop research, contribute to public debate and inform policy-making.  
6. The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, ranked number one in UK for student satisfaction in the 2013 National Student Survey (NSS) and in the top ten of all national league tables, including being named 'Best Campus University' in the Sunday Times Good University Guide 2014.