Despite being relatively few in number, the question of grammar schools remains a thorny one in education policy debates. While some see them as the answer to Britain’s stalling social mobility problem, others argue that they only exacerbate the issue.

There are currently only 163 grammar schools in the UK, educating around 5% of pupils in the state school sector. Only recently the government allocated £14.3 million funding of six grammar school expansion projects, designed to create over 1,100 additional selective school places.

This week's event, chaired by Lucy Powell MP and hosted by UCL’s Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO) and the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR), brought together leading experts, commentators and policymakers and politicians to consider the best available evidence on the topic and consider policy options for the future.

Speakers addressed research questions around who gets into grammar school, the costs and benefits of selective systems, impact of progression into higher education and social mobility building on discussions and contributions for the recent HEPI paper ‘Social Mobility and Higher Education: Are Grammar Schools the Answer?’.

Event host, Lucy Powell MP, added:

"Social mobility shouldn’t be about plucking the tiny few bright but poor children from their local schools and shipping them off to grammar schools. It should be about ensuring all children have access to an excellent school place in their local school which helps them fulfil their potential.

"There are real concerns that a majority Conservative government could lead to the expansion of grammar schools, despite the damage they do to social mobility in this country. That’s why this event in Parliament today is so important. It will provide the evidence to policymakers on the impact of selective schools on our education system so an informed choice can be made about how resource is invested, and policies prioritised.

Dr Matt Dickson, whose research focuses on widening participation in higher education from Bath’s IPR, explained:

"Selective schooling systems remain contentious in education policy debate, with proponents convinced they enhance social mobility, and opponents equally adamant that the opposite is true.

"In these circumstances it’s vital that policy is developed in light of rigorous empirical evidence. This event will summarise such evidence examining the types of pupils who go to the grammar schools, those who don’t, and how the system as a whole impacts on educational and later life outcomes of young people growing up in selective areas."