Plans to drastically expand the number of grammar schools in England will "turbocharge" social mobility, Nick Gibb has said.
The proposals, which will allow existing comprehensives schools to select on the basis of ability, will "complement" the government’s wider academies programme, the schools minister added.
Critics of the grammar school plans, outlined in a Green Paper last week, have warned they will do little to improve social mobility, adding that they risk undoing major Conservative reforms that focused on improving the education of all children.
But speaking at an Academy Ambassadors conference in London earlier this week, Mr Gibb said the plans put forward in the Green Paper would give pupils a better chance of attending a school where they can study "core academic" subjects.
"Just over a week ago, the prime minister launched a government consultation document designed to turbocharge social mobility in this country," the minister said. "The proposals in the consultation document complement our wider approach to school improvement and in particular the academies programme."
The changes will result in more universities and independent schools sponsoring and opening schools, a move that has already come in for heavy criticism from the University of Oxford’s vice-chancellor Louise Richardson.
'Choice and flexibility'
Mr Gibb added: "The consultation also proposes entirely new selective schools being established as free schools, to widen choice, to bring more flexibility, and to challenge those areas of the country where too few pupils are entered for the English Baccalaureate combination of core academic GCSEs."
In the wake of the government’s announcement to expand the number of grammars, former education secretary Nicky Morgan – Mr Gibb’s last boss – warned that the plans would undo years of Conservative education reforms.
Earlier this month, Ms Morgan said the government was right to create a "more meritocratic society" before adding: "However, I believe that an increase in pupil segregation on the basis of academic selection would be at best a distraction from crucial reforms to raise standards and narrow the attainment gap and at worse risk actively undermining six years of progressive education reform."