Grammars: New wave of schools with places for poor announced

Sep 9, 2016 by

Plans for a new wave of grammars and new selective schools which have to take a proportion of poor pupils are being set out by the prime minister.

Theresa May will unveil plans allowing existing grammars in England to expand, new ones to open and some schools to select pupils by ability.

The ban on new selective schools has been in place too long, she will say, and has held bright poor children back.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said the changes would undo years of progress.

Labour says the plans will “entrench inequality”.

In a major speech, the prime minister will say: “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.”

The speech, announcing an end to the current ban on opening new grammars introduced by Labour in 1998, will address concerns that selective schools can have too few poorer pupils.

Just 3% of grammar school entrants are eligible for free school meals, compared to the national average of around 14%, research suggests.

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

A consultation is to be held on ways to make new and expanding grammar schools more inclusive – so that places are not limited to families who can “pay for tuition to pass the test”.

This could mean new grammars might 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

The government also wants to raise the current maximum level of university tuition fees to £9,250 per year – but Mrs May’s speech will suggest that this increase will come with the condition of setting up a new school or sponsoring an underperforming school.

The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, says the idea that poor children would benefit from a return of grammar schools was “tosh” and “nonsense”.

He told the BBC: “My fear is by moving to a grammar and secondary modern system – because, let’s face it, that’s what well 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.”

Education Secretary Justine Greening told the BBC the government wanted to create 21st Century grammar schools that would “turbo charge” the education and prospects of disadvantaged children.

The conditions under which new grammar schools can open would include schools taking “a greater proportion of pupils from those lower income households” and would open in areas where “there are not enough good schools”.

This was not about returning to secondary moderns, she said, but about giving parents more choice.

‘Regressive move’

Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “However you package this up, the Tory government are bringing back selection to the UK education system.

“By enshrining selection into our education system the prime minister is wilfully ignoring the overwhelming evidence that selection at 11 leads to a more unequal country.”

Kevin Courtney, leader of the National Union of Teachers, said opening new grammars was a “regressive move and a distraction from the real problems” of funding pressures and teacher shortages.

There will also be a proposal for changes to the rules governing how religious groups can open free schools.

It has been seen in particular as a barrier to Catholic free schools being opened.

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “If the Conservatives care about our children’s education they should reverse their cuts to school budgets.

“We need to improve all schools, not just let some become grammars.

“Too many pupils are let down by a divisive system that doesn’t work.”

Source: Grammars: New wave of schools with places for poor announced – BBC News

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