HC Deb 25 July 1986 vol 102 cc529-30W
Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what evidence he has about the relationship between examination results and the organisation of schools in local authorities on a selective basis.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The statistical analysis carried out by the Department and published in statistical bulletin 13/84 demonstrated a strong relationship between examination results achieved by pupils at schools in each local authority and social background data for each authority. When these factors are taken into account, the analysis showed a slight positive but statistically significant correlation between some of the measures of examination results and the proportion of pupils attending grammar schools.

Social background factors accounted for nearly 70 per cent. of the relationship with examination results observed in the statistical analysis whilst the proportion of pupils attending grammar schools accounted for some 1 to 2 per cent. for three out of the six measures of examination results. After allowing for social background, the statistical analysis indicated that a local authority with 15 per cent. of its pupils in grammar schools could expect 2 per cent. more of its pupils attaining five or more higher grades at O level/CSE than a local education authority organising its schools wholly on a comprehensive basis. The analysis showed no such statistical relationship in connection with pupils with six or more lower grade O-level/CSE results or with one or more A level passes.

Interpretation of this analysis needs to be treated with caution because:—

  1. (a) Given the dominant influence of social background factors, the analysis is dependent on the choice and accuracy of measurement of social background factors.
  2. (b) The results of a statistical analysis should not necessarily be taken to imply a causal relationship between the two factors for which a correlation has been identified. Social background factors do not determine examination attainment and other studies have shown that this varies markedly for children from similar backgrounds attending different schools. Similarly the small positive correlation between certain examination results and the proportion of pupils attending grammar schools does not necessarily imply an advantage for schools organised on a selective basis. It might, for example, arise from other features of grammar schools which may also be present in some comprehensive schools.
  3. (c) The analysis was conducted at local authority level because data on social background is not readily available below this level of aggregation. The analysis did not explore the variations in examination results either within or between individual schools, or factors which might bear upon such variations.

Other evidence available to me and based on similar analyses at local authority level is not inconsistent with the Department's analysis. In view of the uncertainties over interpretation, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) announced in 1984 that he was willing to consider proposals for further research designed to examine in more detail the factors affecting performance in individual schools. Some proposals have been received and are under consideration within the Department.

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