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What do voters think of grammar schools?

Polling on public support for academic selection and the expansion of grammar schools
Will Tanner
August 1, 2022
What do voters think of grammar schools?
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The Conservative leadership contest has thrust grammar schools into the political spotlight, with both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss backing new grammars. But how popular is academic selection among the British public and – perhaps more importantly for the two candidates – Conservative voters?

Onward worked with J.L. Partners on a 4,013 sample, GB representative poll to test public opinion on grammar schools. The fieldwork was conducted between 17 and 21 June 2022. 

Public opinion on grammar school expansion is mixed

  • More voters want grammar expansion than for selection to be abolished, but public opinion is balanced. Of all voters, 30% say they want the government to build more grammar schools, 21% want the status quo, and 27% want the removal of existing grammar schools, with 22% saying they are unsure. Demographically, support for more grammars is highest among over-65s (44%), AB voters (36%) and parents with children under-5 (33%) and lowest amongst 45-54 year olds (20%) and DE voters (24%). 
  • A majority of British voters favours academic selection over equal access to education. 52% agree that “academically able children should have the opportunity to apply to a school better suited to their needs, even if children who do not get in do not do as well” versus 31% who agree that “all children regardless of ability should attend the same types of school even if more academically able children do less well as a result”.
  • Over half of voters agree that academically able children should have the opportunity to apply to a grammar school wherever they live, even if that means opening grammar schools where they have not been before. Only 24% think parents should have to move to send their children to a grammar school. Two thirds (67%) of over-65s think children should be able to apply to a grammar school wherever they live. Regionally, the North West (60%) and the West Midlands (61%) are most supportive. 

Most people would send their children to a grammar school if they could

  • 57% of people agree they would get their child to sit the 11-plus, with only 19% saying they would not. 60% say they would send their child to a grammar if they passed, four times the 15% who would not. All age groups, all social grades, and all parent groups would send their own child to a grammar, including 57% of parents of 5-10 year olds say they would, with only 14% saying they would not. 
  • But if local comprehensive schools are as good, or if there were no grammars available locally, voters have less appetite for selection. Only 26% say they would send their child to a grammar school if the comprehensive school in the area had the same or better results, versus 37% who say they would not and 37% that don’t know. 69% say that if there were no grammar schools in the area, they would send their child to the local comprehensive like everyone else with only 10% saying they would not and 21% saying they don’t know. 
  • Nearly half (47%) of parents of children under 5 years old say that they would send their child to a private school if grammar schools were not available, if they could afford it, and 43% of parents of 5-10 year olds say the same. Among all voters, more than a third (35%) agree, while 46% say they would not and 20% don’t know. Only 16% of voters would consider moving to another part of the country with a grammar school in this situation, with 61% saying they would not. 
  • Among different ethnicities, Asian voters are considerably more likely to support grammar schools than white or black voters. 45% of Asian voters agree that “the Government should encourage more schools to select by academic ability and build more grammar schools”, compared to 36% among Black voters and 29% among White voters. Meanwhile, 60% of Asian voters agree that “academically able children should be given the opportunity to apply to a school that better suits their needs, even if children who do not get in do less well as a result”, compared to 51% for White voters and 50% for Black voters. 

How support for grammar schools breaks down politically

Breaking down the results by political affiliation, we find a clear divide:

  • Conservatives are more than twice as likely than Labour voters to support grammar expansion. 46% of Conservative 2019 voters support building more grammars, compared to 20% of Labour voters, 27% of Liberal Democrats. Conservative support varies by region, with 2019 Conservative voters in the Midlands being most supportive of grammar expansion (52%), and Northern conservatives (42%) least supportive. Among all voters in Conservative 2019 gains (34%) and the Red Wall (32%), support for grammar expansion is marginally higher than the country as a whole but lower than for 2019 Conservative voters. 
  • Two thirds of Conservatives 2019 voters support the principle of academic selection, compared to just 4 in 10 Labour voters. 64% of Conservatives agree that “academically able children should be given the opportunity to apply to a school that better suits their needs, even if children who do not get in do less well as a result”, compared to 41% for Labour. Voters in Conservative 2019 gains exactly mirror the wider country, while Red Wall voters are marginally less supportive, at 49% in favour. 
  • A majority of all voters of all parties agree that academically able children should be given the opportunity to apply to a grammar school wherever they live, even if that means opening more grammar schools where they don’t currently exist. 56% of all voters agree, more than twice the number who disagree (24%). Conservative voters are most supportive, with 67% agreeing against 19% who disagree, but even Labour voters are nearly twice as likely to agree (51%) as disagree (27%).
  • Conservatives are overwhelmingly likely to say they would send their children to grammar schools if they could. 74% of Conservative 2019 voters say they would get their children to sit the 11 plus, and 76% would send their child to a grammar if they got in, against 10% and 8% who say they would not respectively. 57% of voters in Conservative 2019 gains and 52% of Red Wall voters would get their child to sit the 11 plus, with 60% and 55% respectively would send their child to a grammar school if they got in. Even among Labour voters, 47% would get their child to sit the 11 plus and 50% would send their child to a grammar.
Sep 14
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