'DfE memo' appears to show proposals for expansion of grammar schools

6th September 2016 at 15:02
justine greening, dfe, grammar schools
Photographed document prompts questions over government plans for new grammar schools

A photograph of an apparent internal memo written by the Department for Education’s permanent secretary appears to reveal the government’s plans to open more grammar schools.

The picture (see below), circulating on social media, shows a briefing note allegedly written by Jonathan Slater, the DfE’s recently appointed permanent secretary, discussing the expansion of grammars.

As TES exclusively revealed, the government is looking into increasing the number of grammar schools under various caveats, such as ensuring the schools admit a significant proportion of pupils in receipt of free school meals.

Another suggestion was that the new grammar schools would operate strict catchment areas that encompass communities with low- and middle-income families.

The photographed briefing note states that this is the government’s intention, once it has shown that existing grammars can be “expanded and reformed”.

The letter reads: “The con doc [consultation document] says we will open new grammars, albeit that they would have to follow various conditions.

“The SoS’s [secretary of state’s] clear position is that this should be presented in the con doc as an option, and only to be pursued once we have worked with existing grammars to show how they can be expanded and reformed in ways which avoid disadvantaging those who don’t get in.

“I simply don’t know what the PM thinks of this but it sounds reasonable to me, and I simply can't see any way of persuading the Lords to vote for selection on any other basis.”

TES understands that the government was expected to make some sort of announcement on the issue of grammar schools, possibly before the Conservative Party Conference in October. 

Refusing to comment directly on the memo, the Department for Education today said it was considering "a range of options to allow more children to access a school that lets them rise as far as their talents will take them."

'Taking education back to the 1950s'

The photographed "memo" circulating on social media:

doc reveals grammar plans

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "The prime minister has been clear that we need to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

‘We are looking at a range of options to allow more children to access a school that lets them rise as far as their talents will take them.

"Policies on education will be set out in due course and it would be inappropriate to comment further on internal government documents."

The revelations have prompted anger from teaching unions opposed to more grammars.

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT, the largest teachers’ union, said: “Theresa May said on the steps of Downing Street that she wanted ‘a country that works for everyone’. Yet now we hear of proposals to take education back to the 1950s, when children were segregated at age 11 and their life chances determined by the type of school they attended.

“Opening new grammar schools would not only be a backward step but is also a complete distraction from the real problems facing schools and education."

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