More than three-quarters of people believe bright children would do better if taught separately, a poll suggests.
The government believes selection entrenches inequality
More than 1,000 people were surveyed for a report by right-wing think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies.
It found almost as many (73%) thought streaming or a selective system would also help academically weaker children.
The report's author, Lord Blackwell, says all children, particularly the poor, would benefit from selection - a theory rejected by the government.
The survey, conducted by ICM in June last year, found 76% believed that more academic children could maximise their potential in selective secondary schools or those using streaming.
It found that 39% would choose a selective school for their own child, although the majority (58%) would opt for a mixed ability school.
It also found just over half (51%) were in favour of allowing schools to set their own admissions policies.
Lord Blackwell, head of the Number 10 policy unit in the last years of Conservative government, said the comprehensive school system was not providing the best opportunities for the most able children.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "The evidence is very clear that able children do best when they are taught in groups of children with similar abilities who can provide a challenge and peer group pressure.
"Most comprehensives are not able to provide a large enough peer group for the top 5%."
This particularly affected those children from poorer areas where there tended to be worse comprehensives, he said.
"Grammar schools used to provide a route out for them. Now it is selection by postcode, rather than selection by ability."
A selective system would raise overall standards, he says, pointing to figures showing more GCSE students in education authorities with selection achieved A*-B grades than in those without.
In the report, he proposes:
- To allow streaming in all state schools
- To enable state schools to opt to be fully selective
- To allow parents to decide whether or not to apply to a selective school
- To offer free transport to selective schools to serve poorer children
- To provide information on selective schools to all parents of primary school children
- To transform all state schools into independent foundation schools to encourage competition
But Sir Cyril Taylor, head of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust which promotes the government's education strategy, said he was "totally against" bringing back selective grammar schools in all areas.
The remaining 164 grammar schools had effectively become "free independent schools" because they were not serving brighter children from poorer backgrounds, he said.
"We need good schools for everybody," he said, and highlighted the government's programme for gifted children which has identified 180,000 of the country's brightest 11 to 17-year-olds.
A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "Increasing academic selection would not bring about change for the better.
"It will entrench inequality, limit social mobility and would do nothing to boost the numbers staying on in school."