PM poised to give green light to grammar schools

9 Sep 16

Prime minister Theresa May has today set out plans to expand the number of grammar schools as part of moves intended to boost the availability of good school places in England.

School children Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

In a speech today, May confirmed controversial proposals to allow for the creation of new grammar schools, which determine their intake by academic selection, as well as giving the green light for existing grammars to expand.

She criticised the “dogma and ideology” that prevents new selective schools from being established and sacrifices children’s potential.

“The truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and its selection by house price, selection by wealth. That is simply unfair,” the prime minister said.

“That is why I am announcing an ambitious package of education reforms to ensure that every child has the chance to go to a good school. As well as allowing new selective schools we will bring forward a new requirement that means universities who want to charge higher fees will be required to establish a new school or sponsor an existing underperforming school.”

Under the plans, new or expanding grammars will be required to implement one of three measures intended to ensure that selective education is not reserved for the better off.

These are: taking a proportion of pupils from lower income households, or establishing a new, high quality, non-selective free school and a primary feeder school in an area with a high density of lower income households, or sponsor a currently underperforming non-selective academy.

The expansion of grammar schools has been criticised by chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw who said a return to selection would be “tosh and nonsense”. Teaching unions and the Labour party have also voiced criticism.

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said plans were a “regressive move and a distraction from the real problems facing schools and education”.

He added: “Social mobility is a problem but as all the evidence shows it is one that will not be addressed by selective education. A Sutton Trust report showed that less than 3% of entrants to grammar schools are entitled to free school meals, while many grammar school heads were concerned that children from middle class families were coached to pass the entrance exam.

“The Conservatives experiment with education is not working. Parents and teachers have seen the consequences of choice in school provision.”

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, agreed that expanding pupil selection was “a massive distraction” from the real problems facing the education system”.

“Expanding the selection of pupils was not in the manifesto on which the Conservative Party was elected, so the government has not got a mandate to do this,” she noted.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said grammars would work for the few at the expense of the many.

“However you package this up, the Tory government are bringing back selection to the UK education system,” she stated.


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