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Current position

Grammar schools select all or most of their pupils based on examination of their academic ability, usually at age 11. There is a general prohibition against state funded schools selecting pupils based on academic ability. Grammar schools that have had selective admissions arrangements in place since the 1997/98 school year are an exception to this and are permitted to continue to select by ability.

The general prohibition against academic selection in state schools prevents the establishment of any new grammar schools. However, existing grammar schools can expand, providing that any expansion onto a new site is a change to an existing school and not a new school. In October 2015, the then Education Secretary approved a proposal from the Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge to open a satellite site in Sevenoaks.

Proposals for reform

On 9 September 2016, then Prime Minister Theresa May announced  the Government’s intention to remove the prohibition on the creation of new grammar schools and to give the ‘green light’ to the expansion of existing grammars. A consultation on the proposals, Schools that work for everyone, was subsequently published in September 2016 and ran until December 2016. 

The Conservative manifesto for the 2017 General Election said they intended to lift the ban on new selective schools, subject to conditions. Following the loss of the Conservative majority at the election, the proposals did not appear in the Queen’s Speech in June 2017. The Government subsequently confirmed the existing prohibition would remain in place.

A response to the Schools that work for everyone consultation was published in May 2018, alongside a new Memorandum of Understanding between the Department for Education and the Grammar School Heads Association, which focused on improving access to grammar schools for disadvantaged children.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 23 November 2016 announced £200m in funding for the expansion of existing grammar schools, the first £50m of which was provided in 2018-19 through the new Selective School Expansion Fund.

In November 2022 the current Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, said her attention was on comprehensive education.

Number of grammar schools

In January 2022, around 188,000 pupils attended 163 grammar schools (5.3% of state-funded secondary pupils). The geographic distribution of grammar schools in England is very uneven. Only 35 local authorities have any grammar schools and around 60% of grammars are located in just 11 local authorities.

Grammar school pupils

Pupils at grammar schools were much less likely than pupils at non-selective schools to be eligible for free school meals (around 6% compared to 21% in 2022). They were also much less likely to have special educational needs.

Grammar school attainment

Grammar schools select all or most of their pupils based on examination of their academic ability. This means it is not surprising that GCSE attainment measures such as Attainment 8 (PDF) are much higher, on average, for grammar schools (74.1 in 2022) than non-selective schools in both highly selective areas (44.2) and in non-highly selective areas (48.9). Highly selective areas are where 25% or more of state-funded secondary school places are in state-funded selective schools.

It is not possible to control for all pupil intake characteristics. However, after adjusting for prior attainment (at key stage 2) the difference between grammars and non-selective schools narrows.

In 2022, the average Attainment 8 score of pupils with high prior attainment at grammar schools was 77.0, in non-selective schools in highly selective areas it was 62.6, and in non-selective schools in other areas it was 68.4.

A separate Library paper on Grammar School Statistics contains some older statistics on grammar schools. However, that paper is no longer being updated and the most recent statistical information is included in this briefing.


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