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Are grammar schools really the holy grail?

UCL published some interesting research in May exploring the link between grammar schools and social outcomes.

Their main finding in the research was that children who attend grammar schools did not gain an advantage over similar children by the age of 14.

The researchers explored a range of social and emotional outcomes including engagement and well-being at school, aspirations for the future and attainment levels.

Overall they found that attending a grammar school had no positive impact upon teenagers' attitudes towards school, self-esteem, future aspirations or their vocabulary. In fact, self-esteem was found to be slightly worse for those attending grammar schools, something perhaps linked to grouping higher achieving children together and so increasing competition and thus anxiety.

Independent schools, on the other hand, have consistently fared better with research regularly identifying higher levels of attainment, a greater likelihood of school leavers securing high-status occupations and generally higher wages in later life. Many reasons are posited for this effect but of primary importance seems to be the broader curriculum and the development of important soft skills such as leadership, team working and grit.

It could be that the word 'curriculum' is interpreted differently in different settings. For an independent school, the curriculum is not simply the things you teach in the classroom or assess at the end of the year, it is all of the activities that take place in and around the classroom.

Take the last 24 hours at Radnor as an example: countless fixtures, training sessions, Science discovery days, Senior students mentoring the Prep, Y7 buddying with Sixth Formers, Student Council, clubs, student-led assemblies, Forest School, expedition preparation, Duke of Edinburgh and many more.

It is this rich variety of experiences that directly lead to the advantages identified by the research. As the Head of an independent school my job is not simply to ensure a child passes a test, rather it is to ensure that the young adults we produce are capable of achieving highly at whatever they turn their hand to.

For many, the first hurdle is the GCSE and A-Level process but don't be fooled into thinking that this is the only measure of success; great schools build adults that thrive in the future, perhaps we should have a league table which measures that outcome?

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