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Exclusive: Allowing more selection would use up 'all of the DfE's time', former Gove adviser warns

New GCSEs and other key reforms could be put in jeopardy if the government chooses to focus on opening grammar schools, says Teach First director

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New GCSEs and other key reforms could be put in jeopardy if the government chooses to focus on opening grammar schools, says Teach First director

Changing government policy to allow more grammar schools could result in new GCSEs and other planned reforms going “horribly wrong”, according to a former senior Department for Education adviser. 

Sam Freedman, a key policy aide to Michael Gove when he was education secretary, has used a TES interview to warn that any switch to wider academic selection would leave his old department no time for anything else.

“It’s not straightforward. If you want to open up grammar schools you will probably have to change the law,” he said. “It will take up all of the DfE’s time because it will be a huge debate at a time when we have real problems that need to be sorted now.”  

Mr Freedman, now an executive director at charity Teach First, said: “We are still at the beginning of the GCSE reform cycle and it’s a very big complex policy reform and if the eye is taken off that one that could go horribly wrong and cause a lot of problems.”

The return of grammar schools?

Last month, education secretary Justine Greening fuelled speculation about a return to selection. Asked about her position on allowing more grammar schools, she replied: “We need to be prepared to be open-minded.”

And just last week, schools minister Nick Gibb sidestepped a question about more pupils going through the 11-plus. 

But Mr Freedman is clear that focusing time and effort on an age-old debate around selection would be mistake. Instead, Ms Greening should prioritise carrying through the work of her predecessors, he argued.

The department’s focus should be on curriculum reform, teacher recruitment, its newly expanded remit looking after skills and universities, and providing more funding and coordinated school improvement support in “stagnated areas” of the country, according to Mr Freedman.

“Grammar schools are just a distraction to that,” he said.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Our focus is on making sure the education system works for everyone and that every child has the best possible start in life.

“The education secretary has been clear that fundamentally the most important thing is what’s happening in the classroom and to recognise that children thrive in different learning environments."

This is an edited version of an article in the 5 August edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents.

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