Three grammar schools have contacted the Department for Education about expanding via new “annexes”.
The revelation follows indications that the new education secretary, Damian Hinds, is more supportive of expanding selective provision than his predecessor, Justine Greening.
Comprehensive Future, a campaign group opposed to selection, submitted a freedom of information request to the DfE in January on whether the department had been contacted in the past 12 months by grammars looking to expand by setting up new annexes.
According to the DfE’s response, three grammars have approached it about expanding on to a separate site from their existing school – one in January 2017 and two in February 2017.
Currently, creating completely new selective schools is against the law.
Theresa May set out plans to change this when she became prime minister in 2016, but these were scuppered when she lost her Commons majority in last summer’s general election.
However, the existing legal framework does allow existing grammars to expand or open new schools as “annexes”.
While Weald of Kent Grammar School delivered on a long-held plan to open an annexe in Sevenoaks last September, Ms Greening did not view new grammar schools as a priority during her time as education secretary.
Hinds 'looking at grammar school expansion'
However, Mr Hinds – a former grammar school boy – appears to be more positive about expanding selective provision.
In an interview this weekend, he said: “When it is possible for them to expand, physically, I want them to be able to expand.
“There are capital sources available for most schools to be able to do that when they want to. I’m looking at how to also facilitate that for selective schools.”
The DfE did not name the three schools that have requested to open annexes, but Comprehensive Future has asked the department which local authorities they are located in and how far from the original building the annexe is planned.
The Herne Bay Gazette has reported that Barton Court, a grammar school in Canterbury, is interested in opening a school in Herne Bay, Kent. The pro-grammar local Conservative MP, Sir Roger Gale, has said he would talk to Mr Hinds about the idea.
Melissa Benn, chair of Comprehensive Future, criticised annexes as a “backdoor route” to new grammar schools aimed at “avoiding existing laws”.
She said: “It is disappointing to hear that Damian Hinds is keen to expand ‘good school places’ for the few, while reducing the educational chances of the many. It’s hard not to despair at politicians returning over and over again to failed policies.
“The opening of annexes is clearly a backdoor route to new grammar schools and all about avoiding existing laws."
She added: "We know that expanding selection changes the education landscape of communities and creates more of a secondary modern effect in surrounding schools. The government should listen to evidence and build good new schools that work for everyone.
"The grammar school obsession is all about pleasing a certain sort of voter and not about sensible education policy.”