Government to give £50m to expand grammar schools despite concerns over funding crisis
“The government has announced plans to hand over £50m to existing grammar schools to help create thousands of new places despite a funding crisis in other state schools.
Critics hoped the government’s focus on expanding academic selection had been dropped after controversial plans to allow the creation of new grammar schools were scrapped.
But the Department for Education has said the money for existing schools will create greater choice for parents, with the cash made available during the school year starting in September.
The funding will be dependent on grammar schools – of which there are 163 in England – setting out what action they will take to boost the number of disadvantaged pupils they admit.
Measures are expected to include prioritising pupil premium pupils in school admission policies, as well as a commitment to improving outreach work with primary schools.
But critics have complained that the move allows the expansion of selective education in a “covert” way by allowing the creation of annexes, which can be on separate sites to existing schools.
It also follows criticism that grammar schools do not help improve social mobility during a government consultation.
Figures show that around 2.6 per cent of grammar school pupils are on free school meals, compared to 14.1 per cent across all school types.
Jim Skinner, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads’ Association, said the expansion would meet high demand from parents for selective education at a time when “increasing numbers of pupils reaching secondary age”.
But Melissa Benn, chair of campaign group Comprehensive Future, told The Independent: “A number of grammar schools have indicated that they would like to expand and I dare say we will see some of those plans go ahead. I think we will see more annexes. It is a way of getting around the ban.”
Last year, the Weald of Kent Grammar School opened a controversial annexe in Sevenoaks – 10 miles from its original site – after ministers ruled it to be an expansion of the same school.
Ms Benn added: “The expansion had been done in this rather covert way. Annexe expansion or increasing the number of children from certain backgrounds – none of that is going to make much difference to the policy itself which is not a good one and it’s not a modern one.
“At a time of public spending restrictions – particularly in the school system – it is a waste of money and it is a waste of an education budget. We should be using that money to improve all schools.”
Education unions have accused the government of pursuing an “elitist policy” during a funding crisis. Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), 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.”
He added: ”School budgets are at breaking point. The state-funded school system is rapidly heading towards insolvency. To pursue such an elitist policy as expanding grammars at a time of crisis is a distraction at best. This money should be spent for the benefit of all children, not just the tiny number who attend grammar schools.“
The confirmation of cash for grammar schools is likely to be seen as a revival of Theresa May’s pledge to expand selective education.
Controversial proposals to lift the ban on creating new grammar schools were a key part of the Conservative manifesto in last year’s snap general election, but the plans were dropped in the wake of the election result, which saw the Tories lose their overall majority.
One government insider, talking about the new rules to give more places to pupils from poorer backgrounds, told The Independent: “We were never going to lift the ban on new schools, but we could make sure existing schools were more accessible, and that is what this is all about.
“Ironically, what the Prime Minister ended up with is no new grammar schools and quite strict conditionality on current ones expanding.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The grammar school corpse has climbed out of its coffin once again despite evidence of the damage that selective education causes.
“Once prior attainment and pupil background is taken into account, research shows there is no overall attainment impact of grammar schools, either positive or negative.”
From The Independent