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Access to Grammar schools for disadvantaged pupils

A report of interviews with Grammar and Primary Head teachers

Taking exams
Published: November 2013
  1. Aim

  2. This research looks at why children from disadvantaged backgrounds do or don’t go to grammar schools. The report explores the factors that school staff think both help and hinder children from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing grammars.

We interviewed a number of head teachers from grammar and primary schools.


Educational Aspiration

Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds were perceived to have a lower level of educational aspiration compared with those from more affluent backgrounds. Head Teachers we spoke to felt that more middle class affluent families placed greater importance on education and were more likely to see grammar schools as providing a high quality education leading to greater advantages in later life.

Parental Perceptions

Head teachers felt that parents from disadvantaged backgrounds often associated grammar schools with tradition, middle class values and elitism. These perceptions created a social rather than educational barrier.

Community Engagement and Outreach

There was a feeling that steps need to be taken to change the image of grammar schools and show they are open to everyone. It was also felt to be increasingly important for grammars to show everything they can offer children, especially for those who have interests beyond straight academic subjects.

Coaching and Admissions

Coaching or tutoring is commonly used to get into selective schools. Tutoring is often private and costly and therefore more likely to be used by affluent parents. It was widely acknowledged that children from more affluent, middle class families were coached to pass the entrance exam.

Financial barriers

Whilst grammars were confident that disadvantaged pupils integrated well both academically and socially, they were mindful to provide further support to these pupils in a way that did not ostracise them from their counterparts.

Based on this evidence, a number of recommendations were made to help facilitate improved equality of access. See the full report for more details.


We conducted semi structured depth interviews with Head teachers from a range of primary and grammar schools. A small number of the grammar schools we spoke to had been identified by the Grammar School Heads Association (GSHA) as having particularly supportive practices and a strong reputation for actively encouraging pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.