Grammar school pupils are no more likely to go to a top university than their comprehensive educated peers

Camilla Turner
Pupils who attend private schools are more likely to go to a Russell Group institution than their peers from similar backgrounds - PA

Going to a grammar school does not make you any more likely than a comprehensive educated child to get into an “elite” university, a study has found.

However, pupils who attend private schools are more likely to go to a Russell Group institution than their peers from similar backgrounds, according to an analysis of the 1970 British Cohort Study.

After controlling for pupils’ background characteristics, such as their family and their academic achievement by age ten, researchers found that there was “no advantage” in attending a grammar school.

Meanwhile, children who were educated at fee-paying establishments were more likely to go to a top university, according to an analysis of the 1970 British Cohort Study.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) used data from the longitudinal study to examine the link between secondary schooling and university admissions for the generation born in 1970.

They looked at how likely children from private schools, comprehensives and grammars were to go to Russell Group universities. 

Prof Alice Sullivan, a sociologist vat UCL who led the study, wrote that her team initially found that there were “stark” differences between pupils’ progression to university depending on which type of school they went to.

They found that 29 per cent of private school pupils went on to Russell Group institutions compared to 12 per cent of grammar school alumni and five per cent from comprehensives. But after controlling their background characteristics, these differences disappeared completely.

Prof Sullivan said that private schools “appeared to confer a genuine advantage in the chances of attending an elite university”.

Meanwhile, grammar school pupils' chances “were comparable to those of comprehensive school pupils with similar socio-economic backgrounds and primary school test scores”.

Researchers also analysed whether alumni of private or grammar schools were more likely to secure the highly sought after jobs, defined by those in the top five per cent of earnings.

“Controlling for prior socio-economic and cognitive factors, having attended a private school was associated with a strong advantage in access to top social class positions and high earnings,” Prof Sullivan said. “However, there was no grammar school advantage.”

When it comes to securing a good job,  family background “matters a great deal” while the type of school a child attends does not, she wrote. Prof Sullivan examined whether a grammar school education had an impact on the future prospects of working class children.

“We found no evidence for this,” she wrote. “Grammar schools did not make any more difference to life chances for children from working-class origins than for those from middle-class origins.

“This is important because the idea that selective schools provide an essential leg-up for less advantaged children is central to the claim that these schools promote both meritocracy and social mobility.”

Prof Sullivan’s findings were included in a collection of papers published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), which look at academic selection in England's school system.

A paper published by Hepi last year argued grammar schools are sending more black and minority ethnic (BME) students to Cambridge University than all the other state schools in the country combined.

Children from the most disadvantaged 20 per cent of households are more than twice as likely to get a place at Oxford or Cambridge if they live in an area with grammar schools, according to the report.

The paper examined the impact of selective schooling on state educated pupils’ progression to top universities. Iain Mansfield, a former senior civil servant who wrote the report, said the figures are a "shocking indictment" on the country's 1,849 comprehensive schools.