Agenda item

Conor Ryan, Director - Research and Communications, Sutton Trust


2.         Conor Ryan, Director - Research and Communications, Sutton Trust

(Item 2)


1.            Conor advised that he was the Director of Research and Communications at the Sutton   Trust.   The Sutton Trust commissioned 15 pieces of work per year, to influence Government education policy for Early Years to university.  The report “Poor Grammar: Entry Into Grammar Schools Disadvantaged Pupils In England” was commissioned three years ago as Grammar schools were considered an important agent for social mobility.


2.            Conor was senior education adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair from 2005-2007 and was David Blunkett’s special adviser from 1993-2001, covering education policy and media relations in government and opposition. Conor is a trustee of the National Foundation for Educational Research and a director of a multi-academy trust. In 2015-16, he is a member of the Scottish Commission on Widening Access.  Before joining the Trust, Conor was an independent writer and consultant, working with many education organisations, writing for national newspapers and advising senior education figures.


3.            Why do you think children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) are currently underrepresented in grammar schools?

Conor considered the following reasons that needed to be addressed:

o   The attainment levels for FSM in Primary schools

o   The extent FSM were encouraged by the school and parents to sit the Kent Test

o   Perceptions of fitting in a grammar school environment

o   There was a challenge around private tuition  for the Kent Test

Conor advised that there was evidence to show that four times more prep school children were going to grammar school than FSM children. 


4.            A common thread that the Select Committee had heard in many of its meetings was the role that the primary schools play.  The Sutton Trust research also refers to the primary schools playing a role.  What could Primary schools do?  Are there good examples?

Conor advised that the King Edward Foundation had been working with schools and Outreach to engage with Primary schools actively for them to put forward their children showing them that they would fit in at a grammar school.  Conor gave the example of Parkfield Community School, Birmingham, which was awarded with the National Pupil Premium Award.  The school had provided the following through the Pupil Premium:

o   Two mathematics Specialist Teachers

o   Developed computer applications in mathematics

o   Mathematics focused breakfast club

This extra tuition resulted in good results at Key Stage 5.  Conor considered that this could only have been achieved in partnership with primary schools and the grammar schools. 

Children needed to have familiarity of the Kent Test that included tests on spatial awareness and Non-verbal reasoning.


5.            Did Birmingham City Council make a political decision to change its Policy or did the school do this on its own?

Conor advised that this was a decision taken by King Edwards Foundation and as far as he was aware Birmingham Council was not involved.  Nationally there had been a change to the Policy on the Admissions Code which allows schools to give preference to Pupil Premium children.  There had been varying reactions from Grammar School Headteachers, but the Grammar School Heads Association was supportive of the change in the code.  This meant that there could be a lower threshold for pupil premium and this led to an increase in the number of FSM being admitted into some Grammar schools.


6.            What percentage of Grammar schools support Primary schools?

Conor advised that no survey had been carried out on this, however, research with Grammar School Headteachers and the National Association of Headteachers did show that they were open to further outreach..


7.            As Members how do we respond to parents who ask us why they shouldn’t spend their money on extra tuition for their child?

Conor said that test preparation was an area that the Trust potentially disagreed with headteachers.  The Trust used the words “Test familiarisation” in its recommendation.  Within their report they suggest ten hours entitlement of test familiarisation which would be provided by the Primary school.  He considered that it was not about condemning parents who what to do their best for their child it was about providing a level playing field, to give those children a fighting chance on ability and not on the ability to pay.   


8.            There appeared to be a wide divergence in opinions of Headteachers regarding the Kent Test. 

We look at the system that exists and look at the social mobility issues in Comprehensive schools too.  Opinions could be changed by fusing relationships between Primary schools and Grammar schools and parents eg holding Open days and other outreach.


9.            At what time should this outreach take place?

Conor advised that this was something that the Trust had not looked at, but he considered that the earlier the better and suggested at Key Stage 2 Year 4.


10.         An observation on coaching was mentioned by a Select Committee Member where children had been over coached.  They managed to cope in years 7 and 8 but at GCSE they were not at the 5 A* level.

Conor advised that when you give a chance to a child who had not been coached they can be successful but we are suggesting familiarisation.  Over coaching can be counterproductive.


11.         There are schools that have not done anything to support children into grammar school how do we break this?

Conor advised that there was no magic wand this came down to having the right links such as Outreach and with the right partnerships and engagement.


12.         Where you are successful in getting a FSM child through to grammar school would they struggle once in the school, is there evidence of this?

Conor advised that the Trust did not have evidence of this but considered that it was important that the support from Outreach continued after a child got into grammar school.  Those children would need support for school transport and ensuring that they were not excluded from activities because their family did not have financial means.


13.         The Chairman advised that as a County Member she had not been aware that Free School Transport was given to FSM attending Grammar school.   This needed to be promoted. 


Conor advised that the change in the legislation, Education Act 2006, changed the position.  Pupils who were entitled to Free School Meals were entitled to Free school transport, but this was not actively publicised.


15.         A Member commented that a Multi-academy Trust, with two Academies and one Free Primary School,  had 53% of children in year 7 received Pupil Premium and asked whether there was any evidence that Multi-academy Trusts were not promoting the 11 plus to keep children in their schools to assist with the schools income?

Conor advised that there had been no specific research on this but he could see the potential of a grammar school being attached to a Multi-academy Trust as this would be a useful way to breakdown any misconceptions.


16.         Was there evidence of a Primary school using the Pupil Premium to assist pupils getting into grammar school?

Conor advised that there was no specific research on this but most Pupil Premiumwas used for one to one teaching and small group tuition.  He did not know whether this led towards a child gaining a grammar school place.  He added that the Pupil Premium should not exclude the use for gifted and talented pupils. 

Conor confirmed that Ministers had given an assurance to the Sutton Trust that the PP would not be ring fenced or only available to tackle low achievement. 

17.         Do you think Grammar Schools aid or hinder social mobility?

Conor explained that the evidence was mixed, of the top 25% in grammar school a portion were gaining grade A*s and grades As and Bs. It was about the relationship those students would have entering lead universities.  The number of State children getting into the leading universities was lower than proportions from private schools.


18.         A recommendation from the Sutton Trust was “Familiarisation”. Coaching is currently banned in Kent schools.  How do we implement this?

Conor explained that this depended on how many children were in the school were FSM as there was an economy of scale i.e. the more FSM children the more funding.  There was a “tool kit” for the use of Pupil Premium.


19.         The Chairman commented that the cost of school uniform could also be an issue for parents when grammar schools used a sole outfitter.  Some Grammar schools had addressed this issue by providing a school badge that can be sewn on to blazers and use outlets such as Asda.


20.         Do you have any recommendations for the Select Committee?

Conor suggested looking at the Pupil Premium, guarantee from grammar school allied with Outreach to break down barriers.

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