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PM vows to 'relax restrictions' on grammar schools

In first major speech, Theresa May announces plans to open and extend grammar schools to boost 'meritocracy'

Posted by Stephanie Broad | September 10, 2016 | People, policy, politics

Yesterday the Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled a new package of measures to radically increase the number of good school places. 

The measures included more university and independent school support for local state schools, tougher testing on independent schools’ charitable status and the expansion of existing grammar schools. 

In her first major domestic speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May made the case for wider social reform to build ‘a true meritocracy’ in Britain. 

Speaking at the British Academy in Central London, the Prime Minister said: “We are going to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. A fundamental part of that is having schools that give every child the best start in life, regardless of their background. 

“For too long we have tolerated a system that contains an arbitrary rule preventing selective schools from being established - sacrificing children’s potential because of dogma and ideology. The truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and its selection by house price, selection by wealth. That is simply unfair. 

“That is why I am announcing an ambitious package of education reforms to ensure that every child has the chance to go to a good school. As well as allowing new selective schools, we will bring forward a new requirement that means universities who want to charge higher fees will be required to establish a new school or sponsor an existing underperforming school.” 

The government will now consult on a number of new proposals including:

  • Requiring new or expanding grammars to take a proportion of pupils from lower income households, so that selective education is not reserved for those with the means to move into a catchment area or pay for tuition to pass the test; or
  • Requiring them to establish a new, high quality, non-selective free school. Requiring them to set up or sponsor a primary feeder school in an area with a high density of lower income households; or
  • Requiring them to sponsor a currently underperforming non-selective academy. 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: “The government’s plan for more controversial new grammar schools is a risky distraction from the real issues in education. England’s schools need increased funding and more high-quality teachers. By focusing on grammar schools the government is choosing the least likely path to take us towards a country that works for everyone.

“To make a real difference to a child’s life, it is too late to wait until they reach eleven. The government’s focus should be on investment in the thousands of early years providers in England, not fiddling with 160 grammar schools to appease a couple of dozen back-benchers.

“Education as a whole is facing an eight per cent cut in funding. A quarter of all new teachers quit after three years. And there is no central strategy to guarantee enough school places. The government lacks credibility to refer to an ‘ambitious package of education reforms’, without announcing any measures to address these issues.

“All education professionals are dedicated to high standards, but that must be for every child not just a select few.”

The Prime Minister also said that universities who want to charge higher fees should be required to set up a new school or sponsor an existing underperforming school. Research shows that prior attainment is one of the biggest factors determining access to university. 

Under the new arrangements, universities would be expected to use their educational expertise to do more to raise standards in schools. This will create a talent pipeline, through which pupils from all backgrounds will have a greater opportunity to get the grades and skills they need to go on to university, and help universities in their efforts to widen participation of lower income students.

 

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