DfE unable to say whether £50m-a-year plan to expand existing grammars will still go ahead

22nd June 2017 at 16:46
Funds for the expansion of existing grammar schools were first announced in September and included in the autumn statement.

The Department for Education (DfE) was today unable to confirm whether a £200 million fund to help existing grammar schools expand would still go ahead.

Yesterday proposals for new grammar schools were absent from the Queen's Speech as the government outlined its legislative priorities for the next two years to Parliament.

A DfE source was clear that ending the ban on new grammars, as the government had originally intended to do, was "not going to happen".

But today the Department was much less certain when asked what would happen to the £200m for the expansion of existing grammars - an annual £50m spread over four years from 2017/18 - first announced in September and confirmed in November's autumn statement.     

Tes understands that the DfE is not now in a position to give a clear answer over the money - and will not be until it has formally responded to the Green Paper that set out the grammar school proposals.

The news will throw into doubt the expansion plans of a significant number of existing grammar schools.

A response to a Freedom of Information request by the anti-selection campaign group Comprehensive Future has revealed that 17 grammar schools had approached the DfE about expanding their schools.

Six schools in Kent were interested. Schools in Essex, London, West Yorkshire, Buckinghamshire, West Midlands, Liverpool, Lancaster and Altrincham also enquired about expanding.

Melissa Benn, of campaign group Comprehensive Future, said: “We are thrilled that the plan to expand selective schools has been dropped. However, we worry that annexe grammar school expansions will permit a slow but steady expansion of selection by other means.”

The expansion of existing grammars was on the agenda long before the government announced its now abandoned plans for new selective schools last year.

In October 2015, former education secretary Nicky Morgan gave the green light to an annexe of the existing Weald of Kent grammar school in Sevenoaks. This annexe will open on a site 10 miles away from the current Tonbridge grammar school in September.

 

Then - in the Schools that Work for Everyone Green Paper  - in September 2016 the government announced it 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 the Chancellor’s autumn statement 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."

 

Now that appears to be in doubt. But anti-selection campaigners remain concerned about the expansion of existing grammars.

 

Ms Benn said: “Any comprehensive area bordering a selective one is still under threat from this form of expansion. Parents may unwittingly find themselves with an 11-plus school system.

“The government cannot legislate to create new grammar schools, but we would like to see this loophole closed so that grammar schools cannot be built by legally dubious means.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We will be responding to the consultation in due course."

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