Could grammar schools still make a comeback?

Did Theresa May let the selection genie out of the bottle? Dave Speck looks into the likelihood of new grammar schools

Could the Conservative government support a new wave of grammar schools?

For more than two decades the law has prevented the opening of any wholly new grammar schools. And to date, all the signals from the top suggest that this will not change under a Johnson-led Conservative government.

A senior Department for Education source told Tes in no uncertain terms before the general election that there was no plan to seek to overturn the ban.

And even the chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association, Mark Fenton, admitted to Tes that the government “probably thinks it’s not worth the aggravation” from the anti-selection lobby.


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That anti-selection lobby gathered momentum last month when the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published a collection of essays by leading academics explaining how grammar schools "unequivocally damage" social mobility.

But that doesn’t mean the issue is going to go away. Far from it. It seems that out there – among parents and at least some politicians – the interest in grammar schools is as high as ever.

A new wave of grammar schools?

Could Theresa May’s ill-fated attempt to open up a new wave of grammar schools – scuppered by the self-inflicted loss of her majority – have had more of a long-term impact than she realised?

Take newly elected Conservative MP and former teacher Jonathan Gullis, who told Tes that he was an advocate of introducing grammar schools into deprived areas and “giving parents more choice”.

As a new member of the Commons Education Select Committee, he wants the committee to look into the issue. He suggests, for example, that places could be ring-fenced for pupils in a particular area and that the “13-plus” exam should be reintroduced in Year 8 or 9 to give a second chance to pupils who failed the 11-plus.

And there is also new evidence of an appetite among parents for more grammars. DfE analysis of secondary school admissions applications published last week revealed that demand for grammar places was outstripping supply by almost 50 per cent.

It should also be noted that these figures were from areas where selection already exists and cannot really be taken as a measure of demand for grammar schools elsewhere.

The research is labelled “ad hoc”, suggesting it was done with a particular purpose in mind. But when asked by Tes what exactly the reason was, the DfE insisted the exercise was "routine" and had nothing to do with any potential creation of new grammars. The message from the DfE is confusing.

Plans for a second new “satellite” grammar in Kent have moved a step closer. And there have been suspicions in some quarters ever since the last Conservative manifesto was published that it was deliberately worded to leave open the option of new grammar schools.

Last week’s announcement that just £14.3 million was being paid out from the grammar school expansion fund out of a potential £50 million, with only six out of the 25 schools applying successful, has been interpreted as the government having “little interest” in the sector.

But that is still more than 1,100 additional places being created – the equivalent to a whole new grammar school. Opponents of selection should probably not rest easy just yet.

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