Knowledge and Resource Hub
24 July 2018

Institutionalised separation: The impact of selective schools

This discussion paper examines inequity within selective schools and their impact on other schools. The paper presents evidence of dramatic and deepening, educational inequality. Selective schools are envisaged as a means for the public education system to cater to high achieving students, regardless of their family background. However, data now clearly shows that selective schools are all but inaccessible to most students. Selective schools are among the most socio-educationally advantaged schools within their local areas, with only a few exceptions. An average of 73% of selective school students came from the highest quarter of socio-educational advantage in 2016. In contrast, only 2% of students in fully selective schools came from the lowest quarter.

Selective schools also appear to create a “brain drain” from non-selective public schools, depriving them of their most capable, highest-achieving students. Selective schools comprise 11% of government schools, yet enrol almost half of the high achievers. The data suggests the school system — instead of promoting inclusion and equity — is increasingly putting socio-educationally advantaged students in a ‘class of their own’. The authors argued that concentrating achievement and advantage in selective schools has come at a cost for the students and schools left behind, and also might not be best for students in selective schools. They maintain that the time has come to rethink and potentially scale back the segregation of high advantaged, high achieving students. Without this, the chances of achieving much-needed improvement in student achievement is diminished when the education system continues to aggregate the most disadvantaged students in schools which are already struggling.