Esther Outram: “Why is no one talking about Disability? An Investigation into Grammar Schools and the disabling barriers experienced by dyslexic pupils”

In Students by General Account

The UK grammar school system habitually produces winners and losers, and low socioeconomic pupils are disproportionately concentrated within the ‘losers’. Existing research highlights the structural inequalities and disadvantage experienced by low socioeconomic pupils in such selective education systems. Resultantly there is a significant underrepresentation of Free School Meal eligible pupils in Grammar Schools. Such research debunks the historic guise of the grammar school system enabling upward social mobility for academically oriented working-class pupils. A similarly stark underrepresentation of Special Educational Needs pupils exists in grammar schools, yet grammar school research has predominantly remained within the parameters of social-class and ignored disability.

This original research proposes a mixed-methodology investigation into where dyslexic pupils fall in the grammar school winner/loser dichotomy. Quantitative secondary statistical analysis of National Government datasets and two-sets of qualitative interviews, with dyslexic pupils (aged 15-16) and eleven-plus/grammar school stakeholders, are planned.

This research has significant educational policy implications as it will: i) highlight potential disabling barriers experienced by dyslexic pupils, resulting in their predicted grammar school underrepresentation, ii) determine whether the eleven-plus is inherently discriminatory for dyslexic pupils, and iii) explore dyslexic pupils’ lived experiences of selective education systems, in comparison to non-selective comprehensive schools, and how this informs their academic self-concept and sense of belonging in the educational spaces they occupy.

This research will consider the intersectionality of disability and social-class, to explore the multi-faceted nature of barriers faced by low socioeconomic dyslexic pupils in selective education systems. Crucially, as a dyslexic individual myself, this research will hope to meaningfully include dyslexic voices in the conversation of social justice and grammar schools.

Research Interests

  • Dyslexia and Neurodiversity
  • Social Models of Dyslexia
  • The Sociology of Education
  • Academic Elite Educational Environments
  • Academic Self-Concept
  • Biographical Narratives

Research Group

Higher Education and Social Inequalities (HESI) Research Group, Department of Sociology, Durham University