Trafford, its Grammar Schools, what Graham Brady didn’t say and the Today programme didn’t ask

On “Today” this morning, there was an item about a Tory pressure group that wants their next manifesto to promise more grammar schools. After a brief but very clear rebuttal by Chris Husbands, there followed an interview at some length with Graham Brady, MP for one of the Trafford constituencies and long-time grammar school advocate.

His premise was that Trafford has a wonderful, high achieving system, grammar schools are a route to social mobility taking all kinds of kids and the secondary moderns too are all great schools. Predictably, Today had done no research so was in no position to challenge his bland and deeply misleading generalisations.

First of all, some basic data about Trafford secondary schools. In 2013, just 9% of pupils were classified as having low key stage 2 scores, 45% were mid-range and 46% had high scores. This is one of the highest scoring intakes in the country. So not surprisingly, GCSE results are very good. It would be remarkable and shocking if they weren’t.

But the key question is, who is benefiting from the Trafford system? Across all the Trafford schools, 21.3% of pupils are considered to be disadvantaged. 9.4% have English as an additional language. There are 7 grammar schools. Their 2013 GCSE cohorts looked like this:

Altrincham Boys          3% disadvantaged       4% EAL
Altrincham Girls         4% disadvantaged        7% EAL
Loreto                           7% disadvantaged        0% EAL
Sale Grammar             5% disadvantaged        4% EAL
St Ambrose                  7% disadvantaged        2% EAL
Stretford                    26% disadvantaged      49% EAL
Urmston                      3% disadvantaged        6% EAL

This means that even including the remarkable figures from Stretford, just 8% of grammar school pupils were classified as disadvantaged. For the six schools, the picture is even worse. So Trafford is no exception to the national pattern that grammar schools are populated by the economically and socially advantaged and poor kids generally don’t get in.

When it comes to results for different kinds if pupils, this is the pattern:

% gaining 5+ A* to C grades at GCSE

Low attainers at KS2    Trafford 4.4%     England 6.9%
Mid attainers at KS2    Trafford 57.4%    England 57.4%
High attainers at KS2   Trafford 96.1%    England 94.7%

Or compare this with Hackney where 55% of pupils are recorded as disadvantaged. Here, in a fully comprehensive system the outcomes were:
% gaining 5+ A* to C grades at GCSE

Low attainers at KS2      Hackney 17.5%
Mid attainers at KS2      Hackney 70.3%
High attainers at KS2     Hackney 96.7%.

Those, like Graham Brady, who choose to claim that there is something special about areas with grammar schools need to reflect on these results. Trafford can claim a slightly better result for its ablest pupils than in the country as a whole. But it’s worse than Hackney and a good many much less favoured comprehensive authorities.

And for those who did less well age 11, the opportunities for catch up are clearly less. Four times as many pupils with a poor result at 11 got good GCSE’s in Hackney than in the secondary moderns of Trafford. In the country as a whole half as many again did so.

Finally it’s worth a look at the process. There is no borough wide 11+ exam in Trafford. Every school sets its own tests, for the most part on different days. So a child that wants to be considered for more than one grammar school has to sit perhaps a whole series of tests, often on Saturdays. Each school has its own over-subscription criteria with a mixture of catchment, test scores, Catholicism and distance from the school. There is no attempt to present an overall summary of the criteria or to ensure that there is equal access to grammar schools in all parts of the borough. If you intended to keep out children whose parents find this kind of thing hard to manage, this is exactly what you’d do …. complex and confusing systems, no co-ordination between schools and a whole string of forms to fill in and tests to sit at different and unpredictable times.

It remains deeply depressing that a local MP can be so ignorant of the realities of the school system in his constituency. It’s also sad that interviewers can’t get themselves briefed properly – this is all easily available data.

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14 Comments on “Trafford, its Grammar Schools, what Graham Brady didn’t say and the Today programme didn’t ask”

  1. Chris Dunne says:

    Forwarded this to a contact I have on the Today programme.

    Chris Dunne

  2. As a reasonably successful grammar school product I fully agree with your thoughts. Throughout the E&W education system there’s a failure to take account of the context for pupils’ levels of affluence/disadvantage. For example, take a look at any list of Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ schools – almost all in affluent areas.

  3. RSW says:

    No mention of Hackney’s £6,680 per pupil compared to Trafford’s £4232 – and that’s before the additional Pupil Premum funding

  4. 123ndcd says:

    You confuse cause and effect.

    The success and popularity of the Trafford schooling system acts as a magnet to aspirational families, drawing them into the area. That has the effect of creating the demographic profile you bemoan.

    Interestingly, it pushes up the achievements of primary schools (which you note) and local non-selective high schools (which you don’t).

    The solution is not fewer but more grammar schools, so people around the northwest don’t have to flock to Trafford.

    A greater number of grammar schools may deny your lust for state control of our lives, but it would give individuals great social mobility.

    • Janet Downs says:

      So the inward migration of ‘aspirational families’ into Trafford results in good achievement all round, does it? Not if its one of the non-selective (designated ‘modern’) schools which have a high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals any time in the last six years (FSM) and with an ability range skewed to the bottom end.

      48% at Altrincham College of Arts reached the benchmark of 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English in 2013. It has 35% FSM pupils. Broadoak School had the same proportion, 48%. Broadoak has 61.9% FSM. Both school have been judged Outstanding by Ofsted. Think how much better their results would be if they were truly comprehensive. But both schools have an ability range skewed towards the average/below average range and far more FSM pupils than the Trafford average (20.4%).

      Some of the so-called non-selective ‘moderns’ seem to have very few previously low-attaining pupils (2013 figures). Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College only had 3% previously low-attaining pupils in its 2013 GCSE cohort,. Wellington School had just 10% previously low-attaining pupils and 29% previously high-attaining ones. Similarly, Flixton Girls’ School had just 9% previously low-attaining and 26% previously high-attaining pupils. The first two had fewer FSM pupils than the Trafford average: 16.9% and 11.5% respectively.

      So the message from Trafford seems to be: if you can’t select high-attaining pupils like the grammars can, then ensure there are very few previously low-attaining pupils and FSM in your school. Then you can claim the system raises achievement.

    • David Pavett says:

      I would be interested to hear from 123ndcd (do you have a name?) as to what his/her aspirations are for those who do not go to grammar school and how selection at eleven serves their interests.

      P.S. Dividing children at eleven on the basis of their alleged potential so that they go to different types of state-funded school is itself a form of “state control of our lives”. It just happens to be one that you agree with.

      • 123ndcd says:

        I have a name – Nick – and nice to meet you too!

        I have four children, two of whom attend Trafford grammar schools. I’d like to know what you would say to them?

        I’m in favour of a diversity of types of schools, as different types of school suit different children.

        I actually think that the important issue today is not the stale grammar/comprehensive debate , but about the lack of diversity of size. As schools have grown, merged and developed, we have schools which cater for those who fit in well within a large student body, but very few which cater for the needs of those who would feel lost and isolated amongst 1000+ students.

    • David Pavett says:

      Hello Nick.

      You haven’t answered my question.

      My answer to your question is that I would say to any young person attending grammar school that there is nothing that they can achieve there which could not be achieved in a comprehensive school with a broader social intake. I would also appeal to their sense of justice by pointing out the iniquity of dividing children into separate institutions on the basis of a snapshot of attainment at the age of eleven. Young people who have not yet had their minds hardened by social and political prejudice normally find that easy to understand.

      Now can you answer my question (about your aspirations for those who do not make it to grammar school)?

      • 123ndcd says:

        Tried to tap out an answer on blasted iphone & it crashed. Will give your reply tomorrow when I’ve a proper keyboard!

      • 123ndcd says:

        David, I don’t know where you’re from, but given the subtitle to this blog, I will make some assumptions that most people on here are either members of the London metropolitan elite or sons of the aristocracy on a guilt-trip.

        By contrast, I live and work in Trafford.

        What I see here is an education system that works – for almost all. The standards of the non-grammars are very high by national standards. If they weren’t we would see people flocking over the borders to schools in Stockport, Manchester & Cheshire. Because of the shape of Trafford that is easy to do. However there is no stampede out of Trafford; quite the reverse.

        Would I be happy for my children to attend one of the Trafford non-grammar schools – absolutely, while there are many comprehensive schools not very far from here which I would baulk at.

        I agree with you about the benefits of a broad social intake: but unless you are advocating bussing then this is hard to achieve. In fact, in many ways the intake of the local Grammar schools is broader than those of some local non selective schools. When we moved to our area about 11 years ago, I had some concerns on looking round some local schools about what appeared to be a sea of white faces (our children are mixed-race). The Grammar schools here are more culturally diverse than many of the local non-grammars, and certainly more than most local religion-based schools.

        (The problem I have with your equality hang-ups) is that there are a number of competing inequalities and they often pull in different directions).

        In passing, I note that nobody responded to RSW’s comment.

        Hope that answers your question.

  5. trevorfisher2 says:

    its not depressing John, it is dogma and the worst kind of politics. If BBC did not have an expert to challenge him directly and had not done any work on Trafford its even more incompetent than today normally is. When they had a Tory MP on to campaign for compulsory history, they had me on to challenge him.

    The facts are not in the public domain because we don’t put them there. Neither on Academies nor grammar schools can anyone get basic data. Last year SEA tried to get a joint pamphlet with the leading pro comprehensive lobby in the country as wilshaw had just attacked grammars – and they refused.

    As grammars are getting high on the political agenda, it is time to counter them. And the increasingly dangerous belief that I hear more and more on the left that if only politicians knew the facts they would turn left.

    Please! We are talking about politicians!

    Trevor Fisher.

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