Selective education in England is set to expand as the Secretary of State today pledged £50 million for existing grammar schools to create new places. Ministers say they will introduce new rules requiring grammar schools to improve access for disadvantaged children.
The Conservative manifesto pledge to lift the ban on new grammars was dropped in the wake of the June 2017 general election, following the loss of an overall majority.
This announcement marks the latest attempt by the Government to boost grammar schools in the face of widespread opposition from educationalists.
Plans for new faith schools were also announced. The Government has not, as was widely expected, moved to remove the 50% cap on faith based admissions to religious free schools or relaxed the rules on religious groups opening new free schools. Instead, local authorities will be encouraged to open new “voluntary aided” faith schools in conjunction with religious groups. They will be allowed to recruit 100% of pupils from particular faith groups, as is the case for other faith schools in the state sector.
It is not clear if the announcement on grammars has implications for the North East as the Department has yet to clarify its definition of “expansion”. Controversy occurred last year when the Sevenoaks “annexe” Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge opened 10 miles away from the school’s main site last year, with places for 450 pupils. Critics claimed the annexe was a new grammar school in all but name. Previous grants for grammar school expansion have not precipitated any moves to expand into the North East.
The announcements came as the Department for Education published its long-delayed response to the 2016 ‘Schools that work for everyone’ consultation, which contained the now abandoned proposal for a wholesale expansion of grammars. One of the most popular response to the consultation was a suggestion that new grammar schools be exclusively for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, though it is not clear if the Government intends to take this into account in its plans. Currently, only around 2.5% of pupils at grammar schools are eligible for free school meals.
In our own submission to the consultation SCHOOLS NorthEast pointed to the strong opposition of regional Head Teachers to new grammar schools and urged the Government not to pursue the road of increased selection. We said: “There is no credible evidence base to support the notion that grammar school have, or ever will, deliver a school system that benefits all pupils regardless of background.”
Previous research by The Education Policy Institute into grammar schools and social mobility found that “additional grammar schools would be likely to lead to increases in the aggregate attainment gaps between rich and poor children”. Likewise, Education Datalab have shown that “children who attend non-selective schools in selective areas (secondary moderns) make less progress than they otherwise would” and also that grammar schools act as a drain on local resources.
Responding to today’s announcement, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders said it was wrong to fund grammar schools when school budgets were under pressure.