What are grammar schools and what are the pros and cons?

Inside a school Credit: PA

As Prime Minister Theresa May looks poised to give the green light to a new generation of grammar schools in England, we take a look at the debate on selective education.

  • What are grammar schools?

A grammar school is a secondary school that selects its pupils based on academic ability.

In their last year of primary school children take a verbal and non-verbal reasoning test called the 11-plus to determine if they will be able to attend or not.

Grammar schools were phased out across much of the country in the 1960s and 1970s, but some remain.

Currently around 167,000 children attend 164 grammar schools across England, and while they are dotted around, the majority are concentrated in counties such as Buckinghamshire and Kent.

Around a quarter (26%) of the current Cabinet were educated at grammar schools, according to the Sutton Trust (a think tank designed to improve social mobility through education).

  • How did grammar schools come about?

The 1944 Education Act envisioned a three-part system divided into secondary, grammar and technical schools. However, many education authorities failed to implement the technical schools, so a two-tier system was created.

At their peak in the mid-1960s there were almost 1,300 grammar schools in England, but the following decades saw a sharp decline.

In 1998 the Labour government passed legislation banning the creation of new grammars.

  • Why has the debate about grammar schools resurfaced?

An unnamed official was pictured carrying a memo about grammar schools at Downing Street. Credit: Steve Back

On Monday an unnamed official was pictured carrying a Government memo proposing a consultation on opening new grammar schools into 10 Downing Street.

Ms May - herself a former grammar school pupil - has since indicated she wants a "21st century education system" with an "element of selection".

  • Is the current system selective?

The Prime Minister has claimed that currently we have "selection by house price".

Research published this week suggests parents in England face paying a premium of £53,000 typically for their family to live near a top-performing state school.

The average price of a house in the same postal district as the 30 state schools in England which achieved the strongest GCSE results in 2015 is £366,744, according to research by Lloyds Bank.

The majority of the top 10 areas which command the highest premium were near grammar schools.

  • What are the arguments in favour of grammar schools?

Campaigners argue that selective education allows for greater social mobility - allowing bright students whose parents cannot afford to pay for education to learn with others of a similar ability.

  • What are the arguments against grammar schools?

Critics argue that grammar schools are full of children from wealthy families and that they foster inequality.

The Government's social mobility tsar, Alan Milburn, told the Guardian that pupils at selective schools were four or five times more likely to come from independent prep schools than from disadvantaged backgrounds.