Education Secretary Damian Hinds today approves a £50million fund
Thousands more places at selective schools are to be created in a new revolution for grammars.
Making good on the Tories’ pledge to increase choice for parents, Education Secretary Damian Hinds today approves a £50million fund for selective schools to build extra classrooms.
However, grammars bidding for the money must be able to prove that they are taking action to increase admissions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is thought that between 1,000 and 2,000 new places could be created in areas where there is high demand from parents.
Despite the drive to give poorer pupils a more rigorous academic education, the proposals already faced a backlash from the Left last night.
Unions claimed the move would not raise attainment or improve social mobility.
The Grammar School Heads Association (GSHA) said that many of its members had been ‘keenly awaiting’ today’s funding announcement – and a number of them had plans ready.
According to the GSHA, 96 of England’s 163 grammar schools were already prioritising disadvantaged youngsters’ applications, and by next year the figure will pass 100.
This new funding is part of a package of measures aimed at providing more pupil places, with new free schools also planned as well as a move to allow more faith schools.
The scheme is the first concrete measure to expand grammars since Theresa May was forced to drop plans to create a raft of new selective schools when she lost her Commons majority at last year’s election.
Announcing the initiatives, grammar school-educated Mr Hinds said: ‘Children only get one chance at an education and they deserve the best, wherever they live and whatever their background.
By creating new schools where they are needed most and helping all great schools to grow, we can give parents greater choice in looking at schools that are right for their family – and give children of all backgrounds access to a world-class education.’
The £50million Selective Schools Expansion Fund will be made available for 2018-19 to grammar schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
The Department for Education said the move would give parents ‘more choice’ and give more children of all backgrounds access to a good school place.
Grammar schools have 167,000 pupils – equating to around 24,000 places for 11-year-olds per year.
In theory, schools could apply for the money to create sister campuses – as the Weald of Kent Grammar School did successfully in 2015.
Announcing the initiatives, grammar school-educated Mr Hinds said: ‘Children only get one chance at an education and they deserve the best, wherever they live and whatever their background’
However, is it much more likely that extra classrooms will be built, allowing the money to be spread more evenly across a greater number of schools. Those grammars applying for the money will have to submit a ‘fair access’ plan setting out what action they will take to increase admissions of disadvantaged pupils.
In order to be considered, schools will have to prioritise youngsters eligible for the ‘pupil premium’ – those from very low income families.
As part of the announcement, a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the GSHA has been unveiled, outlining its commitment to widen access and work with local schools to raise standards for all. Jim Skinner, of the GSHA, said: ‘There are a lot of schools that have been keenly awaiting this announcement and there are a number of schools which have potential plans in place.
‘Clearly there is huge parental demand for selective schools and grammar schools have shown that they enable youngsters from all backgrounds to achieve extremely well.
‘Seventy-one per cent of disadvantaged students completing A-levels at selective schools progress to higher education compared to 56 per cent of disadvantaged pupils completing A-levels or equivalent in comprehensive schools.’
New faith schools win selection fight
New faith schools will be able to select all their pupils using religious criteria, the Government will announce today.
Currently, anyone wanting to set up a school of any religion usually has to go through the free school system, which limits faith selection to 50 per cent.
It has led to complaints from Catholic schools that they are having to turn away Catholic families in favour of others who do not share the faith.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds, who attended a Catholic grammar school, said in January he could not support the cap, which was brought in around a decade ago. Today, he is announcing a scheme to help create new faith schools via the old voluntary-aided system.
Under this system, the new school can be maintained by the local authority and run by a religious body, which contributes to the building costs.
However, experts say it will lead to segregated communities. Ofsted has repeatedly warned it has uncovered cases of hardline religious schools seeking to isolate pupils from British life, leaving them vulnerable to radicalisation.
The Government said any new faith schools would be expected to make sure pupils interact with the community.
But the plan was condemned by the Left last night, with critics claiming grammar schools could never be fair as rich parents will always pay for tutoring to give their children the upper hand in tests.
Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders union, said: ‘We are disappointed that the Government has decided to spend scarce funding on expanding grammar schools.
‘While there are many good selective schools, just as there are many good non-selective schools, the evidence is clear that expanding the number of selective places is likely to be damaging to social mobility.’
Melissa Benn, of Comprehensive Future, which campaigns against grammars, said: ‘Asking grammar schools to find ways to take in a few more children from poorer backgrounds will not alter the well-established fact that selection harms the educational and life chances of most disadvantaged children. It divides communities and harms the self-esteem of the majority of children who are rejected by a test often taken as young as ten.’
Nick Brook, of the NAHT, a union representing primary heads, said: ‘The Government cannot point to a single piece of evidence that shows strong educational benefit of this misguided policy. While it may benefit a small minority, it will not close the gap between rich and poor pupils and if anything will increase the divide.’