Ofsted chief warns against opening new grammar schools

Ofsted chief inspector Michael Wilshaw has warned against potential plans to open new grammar schools, describing it as a ‘profoundly retrograde step’.

Speaking at London Councils’ education conference, the outgoing Ofsted chief criticised grammar schools’ record of admitting disadvantaged children and claimed they worked against the poorest children.

Wilshaw’s comments follow speculation that Prime Minister Theresa May is planning to repeal the ban on opening new grammar schools, which was introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1998.

The speculation that May is looking to open new grammars was further fuelled by her appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, where she dodged multiple questions on the subject and refused to clearly outline her plans.

Wilshaw used London as an example of how a non-selective state education system works for disadvantaged pupils. Speaking at the conference, he said: “If grammar schools are the great answer, why aren’t there more of them in London? If they are such a good thing for poor children, then why are poor children here in the capital doing so much better than their counterparts in those parts of the country that operate selection?

“I appreciate that many grammar schools do a fine job in equipping their students with an excellent education. But we all know that their record of admitting children from non-middle-class backgrounds is pretty woeful. The notion that the poor stand to benefit from the return of grammar schools strikes me as quite palpable tosh and nonsense – and is very clearly refuted by the London experience.”

He also referenced the fact that the attainment gap at GCSE level in Hackney between children on free school meals and those who are not is 14.6 per cent, compared to a 34 per cent gap in Kent, which operates a selective system.

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