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PM unveils plans to bring back grammar schools

By Gary Crossing

The Prime Minister has unveiled proposed plans for a new wave of grammar schools and selective schools, as well as the introduction of measures to ensure that these schools take a proportion of poor pupils.

Theresa May’s controversial proposals would see the creation of new grammar schools, while allowing existing ones to expand. This would end the ban on new grammar schools which has been in place since it was introduced by Labour in 1998.

The Prime Minister said: 'For too long we have tolerated a system that contains an arbitrary rule preventing selective schools from being established – sacrificing children’s potential because of dogma and ideology. The truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and it’s selection by house price, selection by wealth. That is simply unfair.

'We are effectively saying to poorer and some of the most disadvantaged children in our country that they can't have the kind of education their richer counterparts can enjoy.'

Proposed changes to new faith schools have also been announced. Ms May said she would lift the ban on any new faith school selecting more than 50% of pupils on the basis of their religion. This would end the admissions cap, which was aimed at preventing children from being segregated by faith. At present new free schools, which are state funded, are only allowed to select half of their pupils on faith grounds.

According to the Times Educational Supplement a Downing Street source said: 'The admissions cap had the best of intentions but it has failed in its two key tests. It has failed to make minority faith schools more diverse, because parents of other religions and none do not send their children to those schools.

'But it has prevented new Catholic schools from opening, which are more successful, more popular and more ethnically diverse than other types of state school.'

As part of the package of education reforms, the government wants to introduce plans that could allow universities to charge higher fees if they set up a new school or sponsor an existing underperforming school.

May’s speech addressed concerns that selective schools can have too few poorer pupils.

According to figures quoted by the BBC just 3% of grammar school entrants are eligible for free school meals, compared to the national average of around 14%.

It is thought that an Act of Parliament would be needed for the ban to be lifted on the opening of new selective schools but a change in the law may not be required for grammar schools to expand.

A consultation is planned on how to make new selective schools and grammars more inclusive. This could mean the schools have to:

• take a proportion of pupils from lower-income households
• establish a 'high quality, non-selective free school'
• set up or sponsor a primary feeder school in a deprived area
• sponsor an underperforming academy.

Theresa Mays’s proposals have met with some opposition.

The Government's social mobility tsar, former Cabinet minister Alan Milburn, said that grammars could be ‘a social mobility disaster’.

Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner warned MPs that an expansion of grammar schools would 'entrench inequality and disadvantage'.

Ofsted's chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, told the BBC that the idea that poor children would benefit from a return of grammar schools was ‘tosh’ and ‘nonsense’.

‘My fear is by moving to a grammar and secondary modern system - because, let's face it, that's what we'll have if you divide at 11 - we will put the clock back, and the progress we have made over the past 10 to 15 years will slow.’

Image: CC0 Public Domain