Analysis: Greening's grammar school plan reborn

Former education secretary's goal of widening access to grammar schools has been achieved, writes Martin George

Martin George

justine greening, grammar schools, theresa may, social mobility, DfE, damian hinds, expansion, consultation

It is a strange twist of fate that today’s grammar school announcement better reflects the priorities of the education secretary who was sacked rather than those of the prime minister who sacked her.

When Justine Greening’s tenure at the Department for Education was terminated in January, her lack of enthusiasm for Theresa May's plans to boost selective education was widely seen as a major factor.

Her replacement with a former grammar school boy, who had written about the need for a network of elite grammar schools, only heightened the impression.

But Tes understands that the package of measures announced by Damian Hinds’ DfE today is little different to the one that Ms Greening presented to Ms May before Christmas 2017, weeks before she was sacked.

Cast your mind back to September 2016.

A seemingly impregnable Ms May announced plans for a new generation of grammar schools, representing a massive shake-up of England’s education system.

The stated aim was to improve social mobility, but this was actually a weakness rather than a strength of the grammar school system as it stood.

Tackling disadvantage was a priority

Ministers were, therefore, at pains to stress that these new or expanded selective schools would be different, outlining a series conditions that could be imposed on them, from taking a proportion of pupils from lower-income families to setting up feeder schools in a disadvantaged area.

In public, Ms Greening dutifully supported the creation of new grammar schools, but in private her real interest lay in finding a mechanism to prise open the selective sector to more disadvantaged children.

Fast-forward nine months, and the disastrous result of Ms May’s snap election ruled out any attempt to pass legislation on grammar schools. The prime minister’s most far-reaching proposals, such as creating new grammar schools, or allowing existing comprehensive schools to become selective, were dead in the water.

What has survived in today’s proposals is the expansion of existing grammar schools – something they could already do – but with the new rules forcing them take on more children from disadvantaged backgrounds that Ms Greening cared about most.

To be sure, the funding announced today will enable more grammar schools to expand than before, and some will want to set up satellite sites that will have many of the effects of a new grammar school.

And critics say any expansion is bad for social mobility, and opponents such as Comprehensive Future dismiss the new conditions as a “fig leaf”.

But today’s proposals show that a reshuffle, the promotion of a grammar school enthusiast to the DfE and months spent mulling over the options have not been enough to fundamentally alter what was on the table six months ago.

These plans are a shadow of Theresa May’s original vision, but they achieve much of what Justine Greening wanted to do.

Martin George is a reporter at Tes. He tweets @geomr

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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