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Top Tory: Grammars should prove they deserve to expand

Conservative Robert Halfon says selective schools should take on more poorer pupils before getting expansion cash

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Conservative Robert Halfon says selective schools should take on more poorer pupils before getting expansion cash

Grammar schools should not be given money to expand until they have admitted more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, an influential Conservative MP has said.

Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons Education Select Committee, this afternoon raised concerns about the £200 million the government announced in May to allow existing grammar schools to expand.

Speaking in a Commons debate that he called on the Department for Education’s spending, he said: “I’m not against grammar schools. I believe in parental choice, but I am not sure why spending up to £200 million over the next few years expanding grammar schools is more important than spending that £200 million on looking after the most vulnerable pupils.

“You could look after hundreds of thousands of vulnerable pupils with tuition for 12 weeks a year and really transform their life opportunities.”

His Conservative colleague John Redwood noted that the expansion of grammar schools is designed to “particularly target those from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

Grammar schools 'should take more FSM pupils'

Mr Halfon responded that “the problem is, are they providing opportunity for the most disadvantaged? Because only 3 per cent of pupils in grammar schools are getting free school meals, and I would have rather they increased that first – that amount of pupils – before actually giving them extra funding”.

He noted that Mr Redwood often campaigns for more school funding in his Wokingham constituency, and added: “Because funding is being spent in this way, it’s schools in his area and other areas that don’t get as much money as they might need.”

Last month, the select committee questioned education secretary Damian Hinds about any sanctions grammar schools would face if they failed to admit more disadvantaged children after they had expanded.

Mr Hinds told the select committee that he trusted commitments from grammar schools to increase their number of poorer pupils, and added that future decisions about further capital funding would take their past actions into account.

That led Ian Mearns, Labour MP for Gateshead, to warn that “that is locking the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

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