Exclusive: Selective schools left in limbo over £200m capital funding

Schools still do not know whether the government will deliver a promised £50m this year that would allow them to expand

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"Frustrated" grammar school headteachers have been left in limbo over an annual £50million expansion fund they were told to expect this year.

Schools still do not know whether the £200m fund for the expansion of existing grammars – an annual £50m fund spread out over four years – will be available to them, as set out in last year’s autumn statement.

Jim Skinner, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads’ Association (GSHA), said: “I am sure [the wait] has caused a certain amount of frustration.”

He added that it will “rapidly become an issue” for schools looking to expand in 2019 that need to determine their admission plans by February at the latest.

Currently, headteachers are in the dark about whether they will be able to access the 2017-18 fund – which Mr Skinner warned could lead to some grammar schools taking a financial “gamble”, and going ahead with building projects before the money is guaranteed.

He said: “If you are looking at taking an extra form of entry, you may be able to cope for the first year without the capital project. But you need it by the time you get full up.

“Some schools may be prepared to gamble and go ahead with the expansion and trust that from one route or another they will get the funding for the expansion before it becomes a major problem.

“It would be a disappointment if [the fund] wasn’t available as virtually all grammar schools are heavily oversubscribed and, because of increasing demographic changes, those pressures on places are going to get greater.”

Last month, the Local Government Association warned that almost half of councils in England and Wales risk being unable to meet demand for secondary school places within the next five years.

Already, a number of existing grammar schools have expressed an interest in the expansion fund, the GSHA chief executive said, but they are still waiting to hear. 

This follows an announcement in the Schools that Work for Everyone Green Paper in September 2016 that the government would provide £50m a year to allow further expansions.

The consultation said: “We know that some existing selective schools have expressed an interest in expanding onto a satellite site while maintaining a single integrated school across the sites.

“Supporting this expansion will provide additional good quality selective places in the system and would help to meet existing unmet demand (although it would not increase the number of selective schools overall).”

And in November last year, the chancellor confirmed: "The government will provide £50 million of new capital funding to support the expansion of existing grammar schools in each year from 2017-18." 

The Department for Education said education secretary Justine Greening will confirm spending plans in due course.  

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