The biggest political news story today is the government’s decision to allow the opening of a de facto new grammar school in Kent (it’s illegal to actually open a new grammar school, so technically it’s a second site for an existing grammar school in another town). Obviously it’s too early for there to be any polling in re-action to this, but it’s a long standing issue so there is plenty of past polling to look at.

On balance, the public tend to support the existence of current grammar schools – only around a quarter of people support the government ending selection in the remaining grammar schools and opening them to children of all abilities. In contrast, around 40% of people support allowing more selection by ability and the opening of new Grammar schools – the balance is made up of don’t knows and people who back what was the status quo of allowing the existing grammar schools to remain, but not allowing any new ones.

In May YouGov asked about the “loophole” that Nicky Morgan today approved – opening up an extension of an existing grammar school at a new campus in a different location. 51% of people approved of that idea, 18% disapproved, 30% didn’t know. So for what it’s worth, it appears to get the public’s thumbs up.

As an aside, whenever the issue of public attitudes towards grammar schools pops up on the agenda I see the same question. Polls that ask about grammar schools normally show the sort of results I’ve outlined above, and critics of grammar schools will normally counter with something along the lines of “Ah, but you only asked about grammar schools, if you’d asked do you want to bring back grammar schools for those who pass the test… and secondary moderns for those who don’t, then you would have got a different answer”.

That’s a reasonable point. So we tested it.

Back in February YouGov asked a question to two different samples. Half were asked if they’d like to bring back grammar schools across the whole of Great Britain – 53% said yes, 20% said no. The other half were asked if they’d like to bring back the system of an exam at 11, with 25% of children who passed going to grammar schools and the other 75% going to secondary moderns. Now 46% of people supported it, 34% of people were opposed.

People are, at first glance, pretty supportive of grammar schools. That support is undermined a little when people consider the other side of the coin – the majority of children who do not pass the exam – but grammar schools still have more supporters than detractors.

159 Responses to “What polls say about grammar schools”

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  1. AW – Thanks for the link to the Kent poll. Very interesting that in the main county that still retains grammar schools, there is such a strong majority in favour, despite the fact that presumably not all middle-class children manage to attend one. My own opinion is that the majority would be because intelligent working class parents (and yes, there are many despite what some posters have said) see grammar schools as an opportunity for their children to ‘climb the ladder’.

    I did have a long post lined up on the nature v nurture debate, but a line has been drawn, so I will just say that we selectively breed animals and plants to be more useful to society, yet many effects of government (of all stripes, in many countries) policy seem to be trying to achieve selection based on uselessness to society.

    I’m not tryng to reignite the debate, I just wanted to get my two penn’orth in.

  2. Selection of humans, in case that’s not clear

  3. Pete B

    You may have a point – and if anyone asked the pigs if they should be manipulated for human benefit, or the other way around, the porkers may take a different point of view.

  4. @ Pete B

    …we selectively breed animals and plants to be more useful to society

    GM crops
    Support ban – 37% (+2)
    Oppose ban – 32% (-2)

  5. ON
    Pigs don’t have rights.
    I wasn’t talking about GM. Selective breeding has gone on for millenia. Do you think our dogs are the same as wolves?
    I have always found this story to be very instructive and prescient. It was written in about 1950 by Cyril Kornbluth.

  6. Pete B


  7. @ Pete B

    Do you think our dogs are the same as wolves?

    No – but nor did dogs evolve from wolves due to “selective breeding”. Dogs are not descended from wolves per se but are from a split (‘mutation’) from a common ancestor ~35,000 years ago.

  8. To what extent, I wonder (crossing somewhat into TOH territory) is attitude to grammar schools determined by the belief that they exercise disciplined behaviour in school, and thus have a desirable outcome in both socialisation and in academic and vocational capacities.
    In the sixties there was (in the experience of my children’s schooling) what seemed to be a popular movement to remove discipline from classroom behaviour, with what appeared to me at the time to be an inappropriate application in the media and in the teaching profession (Teacher, leave those kids alone.) of neo-marxist ideas drawn partly from Ivan Illich “Deschooling Society” et al. which seemed to suggest that this would be part of a necessary ending of a class structured society,banded around by members of the Socialist Worker Party among teachers at my kids’ comprehensive.
    Watching “Chinese School” in which Chinese teachers were induced to break their hearts trying to teach unruly kids in a British school, and remembering differences of attitude of, for example, Mercedes to British Rolls Royce apprentices in a similar exchange, and all the evidence of a continuing failure of discipline in secondary schools in general, I wonder if those now fifty year old aberrations aren’t still with us, and don’t play a part in a nostalgia for the grammar, caps,blazers, the slipper, cigarette cards, Wizard and Hotspur and all.

  9. Everyone is in favour of giving their children a leg-up. Those that fail to do so (here to get them into a grammar school) can either internalise the failure, or complain it’s unfair. Experience from the 1960s and 1970s is that both responses were common, and the defensive working class response of “it isn’t worth it anyway” was much more frequent than now.

    Anthony’s data from polling in the 1970s and 1980s is fascinating. I would have expected a majority against grammar schools (although not a large one), rather than a small majority in favour. It would be fascinating to know breakdowns by age (as others have commented above there is a strong nostalgia element among older people in current polling), and this would surely also hold back then – things are always getting worse in many people’s mindset (viz crime). And also as a subset the views of parents then.

    My memory is certainly that there was a strong and vocal movement amongst parents against grammar schools, fed by the low quality of education and aspiration in many secondary moderns, and the large number of middle-class families whose children were banished to them, and who wouldn’t accept for a moment that their children were second rate. This was certainly true in the middle-class area in which I grew up.

  10. JC get another lapel badge :-


    Morning John. I certainly agree that there seems to be much less discipline in schools these days compared with my youth, listening to my children and grandchildrens experiences. In the fifties when I was at grammer school, discipline was certainly firm (and mostly fair). However that was equally true of the secondary modern schools that many of my early friends went to. So I’m not sure that different approaches to discipline was a factor.

    The other memory i have of those days was that if you showed apptitude at a secondary modern it was possible to move to a grammer at 13, two years after the 11 plus. I can think of several boys who did that and were successful at my school.

    Looking back one of the very few regrets I have is that I did not get the most out of my last couple of years at the grammer, like many others I was a rebellious teenager.

  12. I had a post “clipped” a couple of says ago. Can I post again that my point was that if people are told that only 25% of children will go to grammar school (and perhaps the same if you change 25% to 10%), far more than 25% (or 10%) of parents will believe that their own children will be amongst the lucky ones?


  13. @Frederic

    It’s like the judgement people make about their own driving skills.

    Everyone seems to think they are average or better than average, but no one seems to think they are below average,

  14. Oldnat,

    If the Tories could get half of the people who think that Davidson is doing a good job to actually vote for them, then they would make significant advances next May.

    I’m surprised that minimum alcohol pricing is so controversial.

  15. @Catman

    Well, there’s Dunning-Kruger.

    Peeps who are better at summat tend to think they’re not as good, while those who aren’t much cop think they are…

  16. Thanks Carfrew.

    First Thorium, now Dunnig-Kruger….

    This place is a great education opportunity :-)

  17. Yep Catman, it is. Sometimes you learn about polling. And cricket. Rashid just got his first test wicket…

  18. And he’s just got another. After days of toiling with scant reward, suddenly two in rapid succession. It’s like buses…

  19. Why don’t the Tories bring back grammar schools if they are so keen on them?

  20. @Catmanjeff

    How many Green Party candidates come from a working-class background and live in a council house? That’s why Corbyn is so popular among them.

  21. @Wolf

    I not quite sure why that question is directed at me???

  22. “Why don’t the Tories bring back grammar schools if they are so keen on them?”


    Now that would be an interesting polling question. If you could only have one or the other, which would you rather have: Grammar Schools or Public Schools…

    Meanwhile, dramatic ending to the Test unfolding…

  23. I expect that support for grammar schools is driven in part by similar factors that lead the public to support railway nationalisation and so forth – i.e. they look back on it as part of a glorified past. It is also probably indicative of how middle class we are these days – most people probably think their children would get in and benefit. But above all the answers people gave to the questions AW quoted are probably indicative of general dissatisfaction with comprehensive schools. It will be interesting to see how academisation and free schools pan out over the next few years – as they become more commonplace, perhaps predominant by 2020 or 2025, will they increase satisfaction or will they actually make little difference?

    FWIW I think largely ending the grammar school system was the right thing to do but that it was done in the wrong way. Schools should have been routinely afforded more freedom to shape their own identities and policies from the start, rather than being turned into enormous comprehensives that were barely distinguishable from one another.

  24. Bill Patrick

    If the Tories could get half of the people who think that Davidson is doing a good job to actually vote for them, then they would make significant advances next May.

    I always reckon most of these “well/badly” type questions tell us little when large numbers of respondents don’t have a view, or when they break along the “my leader good / your leader bad” lines.

    Perhaps a more useful comparison is between the two Heads of Government that Scotland has.

    Predictably, Tories think Cameron ( 89%) does well and Sturgeon (84%) does badly.

    Again, predictably, SNP supporters think Sturgeon (98%) does well and Cameron (84%) does badly.

    So far, so pantomime heroes and villains!

    The LiS supporters attitudes are more interesting.

    On Kez’s performance, 33% say DK (much the same as the Tories and SNP), while 47% say “well” and 20% badly.

    Looking at their attitudes to Sturgeon/Cameron, few are DK (as you would expect for the two most high profile leaders). Opinion on Sturgeon is in her favour (48% well & 44% badly) while old fashioned tribalism still applies to Cameron (24% well, 72% badly).

    I’m keeping an eye open for any indications that the 24% of Lab folk who are pro-Cameron have a significant overlap with the 20% who don’t rate Kez well.

    If that overlap exists (and I suspect it does), then that would be a group very open to shifting to vote Tory, rather than LiS next May.

    Incidentally, YG is to be congratulated for dumping the LDs from the list of parties for which crossbreaks are shown.

    Their level of support has long failed to justify their inclusion – and since they won’t even pay their policing bills, a debtors’ jail seems the most appropriate location.

  25. New poll (via Britain Elects)

    Westminster voting intention:
    CON: 42% (-)
    LAB: 29% (-1)
    UKIP: 13% (-)
    LDEM: 7% (-)
    GRN: 3% (-)
    (via ComRes / 14 – 15 Oct)

  26. We seem to be back to lots of polls with very different results, though with a Tory lead being a consistent point across all of them.

  27. Omnishambles

    Just been looking at that!

    In your concatenated figures for GB VI, you accidentally omitted the score for the party ranked between LD and Grn.

    SNP – 5% Fixed that for you! No need to thank me.

    VI figures for England

    Con 45% : Lab 30% : UKIP 15% : LD 7% : Grn 3%

  28. ComRes have been showing the largest leads post-GE. Still, further evidence that Corbyn has had no (or negligible) positive impact on Labour VI, something which is ominous if past trends are to be taken as a guide.

  29. ComRes also asked whether George Osborne or Boris Johnson would make the best PM. The result was GO 33 Boris 39. Also shows Boris appealing more to current non-Tory voters. I think that this type of question needs to be looked at very cautiously – this is a hypothetical question that takes no account of the policies they might pursue, the political climate at the time and so on. Nonetheless, that people aren’t over enthusiastic about Osborne as a potential PM is worth noting.

  30. Someone retweeted the poll with this

    “For context, the figures for this time 5 years ago were CON 41 LAB 39 LD 11”

    So obviously that’s a big drop, but where did the 10% go? Looks like 2-3% to the SNP and the rest to UKIP. That’s a big chunk of UKIP’s VI which seems to be coming from ex-Labour.

    UKIP/Labour churn is interesting because the actual policies are very different

  31. Anarchists Unite

    When you wrote “Accents, after all, are highly heritable (and also correlated with such things as success in life, high earning, intelligence, class status) but nobody would be brain-dead enough to suggest that accents are genetically inscribed.” I would disagree, if only in a highly technical manner.

    Many east Asians have a shorter, thicker lingual frenulum than Europeans. This leads to physical difficulties in pronouncing some sounds (such as “r”). In Europeans, extreme cases of this condition are said to be suffering from ankyloglossia (common name tongue-tied). This affliction is certainly genetic, and it certainly affects accents. The condition is so well-recognised that there is a surgical operation (a “frenotomy”) to cut this membrane. In much of east Asia, aspiring parents have this operation performed on their children to make it easier to pronounce English words.

    So there are genetic factors that do affect accents, although any such effect is minimal. (I know I’m being pedantic, but I dislike sweeping statements like the one you made, especially when they’re wrong)

  32. Omnishambles
    “That’s a big chunk of UKIP’s VI which seems to be coming from ex-Labour.

    UKIP/Labour churn is interesting because the actual policies are very different”

    I have had some contact with these voters and most of them are the old patriotic working class. Some of these did (and do) vote Tory, but many of those who used to vote Labour have gone to UKIP because of disillusionment with the EU and uncontrolled immigration. To them this overrides other policy differences.

  33. Is pedantry heritable tho’?
    Or genetic!!

  34. @Pete B

    “…but many of those who used to vote Labour have gone to UKIP because of disillusionment with the EU and uncontrolled immigration. To them this overrides other policy differences.”


    Or it is held responsible for other policy issues. E.g. where before they may have held government economic policy responsible for insufficient jobs, low pay, insufficient housing, pressures on the NHS, now instead all of these can be blamed on too much immigration…

  35. @pete b

    EU and immigration, yes. I think defence might be another one.

  36. Carfrew
    Good point, and of course there’s some truth in that belief. For instance it’s blindingly obvious that without hundreds of thousands of new migrants of whatever sort every year, we wouldn’t need to build so many houses.

  37. @Omni

    Clearly lots of churn. Your suggestions are probably about correct for overall levels of switching, though there will have been limited LAB-CON switching too (and compared to five years they have probably picked up a % or two of LDs).

  38. @Pete B

    Well, there’s the flip side: the contribution to growth of the immigration, proceeds of which might be used for housing etc.

    Strangely this does not get mentioned in the media as much as the downsides. No one knows why…

  39. Bit surprised Catman doesn’t seem bothered that given his Yorkie fandom, Rashid going on to take five wickets on debut has not aroused a murmur on the matter from Catman!! I mean, talk about priorities…

  40. Onhi
    Yes, defence is important. UKIP have a bigger commitment than the Tories (and obviously Labour). To Oldnat – I am talking about E&W.

  41. Pete B

    I’m happy to take your word for it that UKIP’s determination is to defend E&W.

    Presumably, that’s also where they want to store the WMD?

  42. @Carfrew

    It was a great effort by Rashid.

    I have been in an out this afternoon/evening with stuff around my daughter’s birthday.

    Instead of musing about another glorious Yorkshire player, I was watching a musical version of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’.

    I have another two days of birthday stuff to battle through – it will be tough ;-)

  43. @pete b

    I don’t think UKIP have a bigger commitment than the Tories. They did before the election, they committed to spending 2% GDP quite early. But now the main points in UKIP’s manifesto (2% GDP and replace nuclear deterrent) are both Tory policy.

    They also say “restore armed forces to 2010 manpower and capability”. I don’t like this for two reasons.

    1) Capability of the British armed forces will soon be better than it was in 2010 so this will be regressive

    2) Most of the 2010 manpower cuts were from the Army. If we’re spending more in real terms on defence this Parliament (which we are), I’m of the opinion that it’s wiser to increase Royal Navy and RAF strength rather than make the Army larger again.

    BTW I’m going from their election manifesto, if UKIP policy has changed since then, I’m going to be wrong.

  44. Catmanjeff

    “I was watching a musical version of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’.”

    Doesn’t she get a bit embarrassed at your insistence on repeating her favourite birthday – now that she’s 47? :-)

  45. @Oldnat

    She’s not quite 47 yet.

    Neither am I – though my knees feel about 86.

    She’s 7 :-)

  46. Oldnat
    Obviously no-one’s interested in defending Scotland, but of course what I was talking about was E&W politics, and trying to forestall the inevitable ‘what about the SNP’ post. I failed.

  47. Pete B

    You were talking about UKIP. It didn’t need any clarification that you weren’t referring to Scottish politics. :-)

    However, you didn’t answer my question. Does UKIP want to store the WMDs in E&W?

  48. Catmanjeff

    I got her age partly correct! :-)

    Hope she has a great time – and that you survive.

    “I expect that support for grammar schools is driven in part by similar factors that lead the public to support railway nationalisation and so forth – i.e. they look back on it as part of a glorified past. It is also probably indicative of how middle class we are these days ”

    Could it be that it is the class system that we are nostalgic for?

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