What kind of school do parents want?

grammar school class

What makes a good school?

It's a question every parent faces as they get given the glossy version on a tour of a potential secondary school.

Are you worried most about exam results, or how they help your teenager prepare for real life?

That debate has taken a whole new turn in the past year, with plans for what Prime Minister Theresa May described as "new grammars of the future".

Now, her authority diminished and damaged, that promise has little political substance.

Grammar schools get good results, from pupils already doing well academically, but does that make them a good school?

The academics at the National Centre for Social Research - NatCen - turned to the public to probe views further, using a representative panel of people.

It's a more subtle tool than the kind of polling you might usually read about.

Emotional appeal

Grammar schools are a small part of the system in England, but the idea of them remains popular with a minority.

NatCen found 39% of people thought children should go to a different kind of secondary school according to how well they did at primary school.

It's worth bearing in mind that grammar schools rely not on end-of-primary tests, or Sats as they are called, but entrance exams for which many children are tutored.

But none the less it shows the enduring emotional appeal of the grammar brand for some.

This appears to be based on a belief from 54% of NatCen's panel that grammar schools help level the playing field some of the time.

Of course a school can only make a difference if your child gets a place.

Overall in England, grammar schools take more than half of their pupils from the wealthier half of society, according to a recent government analysis, and very few from families getting by on very low incomes.

There's a generation gap too, with older people more likely to think grammar schools have an impact on how children do academically.

Slightly more than half overall said they would support the idea of expanding grammar schools.

But Emily Tanner from NatCen points out that in many respects this still doesn't answer the question of whether people think grammar schools are good schools.

Well-rounded adults

So what did they find people associate with a good school?

"One that helps prepare pupils for getting a fulfilling job, that helps develop confidence and assurance, and they put some emphasis on the social side of pupils being well behaved and presented."

Almost 80% said pupils mixing with others from different backgrounds was important.

It's not that parents don't care about exam results, they clearly do, and this research confirms that.

But they also care about their children being supported into becoming well-rounded adults.

One reason perhaps why there was overwhelming support for grammar schools to have quotas for giving places to children from poorer families who pass the academic test.

It could be the sting in the tail of the recent grammar debate.

There has been a renewed focus on who gets into grammar schools, with many looking at revising their admission policies.

Mrs May's vision for a whole new generation of selective schools may disappear into the dustbin of political history.

But with the unexpected consequence of making some of the existing grammar schools move more quickly to make sure they are more socially inclusive.

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