May announces new grammar school plans

After months of speculation, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans to lift the ban on opening new grammar schools, but with measures to ensure children from low-income families don’t miss out.

Making the official announcement in London, May said: “There is nothing meritocratic about standing in the way of giving our most academically gifted children the specialist and tailored support that can enable them to fulfil their potential. In a true meritocracy, we should not be apologetic about stretching the most academically able to the very highest standards of excellence.

“We already have selection to help achieve this in specialist disciplines like music and sport, giving exceptionally talented young people access to the facilities and training that can help them become world class. I think we should have more of this. But we should also take the same approach to support the most academically gifted too.

“Frankly, it is completely illogical to make it illegal to open good new schools. So I want to relax the restrictions that stop selective schools from expanding, that deny parents the right to have a new selective school opened where they want one, and that stop existing non-selective schools to become selective in the right circumstances and where there is demand.”

She added: “The principle is clear: selective schools have a part to play in helping to expand the capacity of our school system and they have the ability to cater to the individual needs of every child. So the government will make up to £50 million a year available to support the expansion of good or outstanding existing grammars.”

In her maiden speech as Prime Minister May put a focus on social mobility and promised to create a Britain that worked ‘for everyone’ and it is believed that May will present grammars as a way to help boost social mobility.

This is despite research from the Sutton Trust that found that in selective areas on average 18 per cent of pupils are entitled to free school meals - an important indicator of social deprivation - but make up only three per cent of grammar school entrants.

In order to address the criticisms that grammars hinder social mobility, May stressed that the government will ensure ‘that these schools contribute meaningfully to raising outcomes for all pupils in every part of the system’.

She said: “In practice this could mean taking a proportion of pupils from lower income households, so that selective education is not reserved for those with the means to move into a catchment area or pay for tuition to pass the test.

“They could, as a condition of opening a new selective school, be asked to establish a good, new non-selective school. Others may be asked to establish a primary feeder school in an area with a high density of lower income households to widen access. They might even partner with an existing non-selective school within a multi-academy trust or sponsor a currently underperforming non-selective academy.”

The move will surely prove to be controversial, with many Conservatives already speaking out against the plans, including Education Committee chair Neil Carmichael.

Ofsted chief inspector Michael Wilshaw has also been critical about opening new grammar schools. Speaking on BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme he said that we should aim to achieve excellence outcomes for ‘a larger number of children’ and warned that ‘we will fail as a nation’ if only the top 15-20 per cent achieve in school.

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