Minister confirms grammar school plans being considered

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Education Secretary Justine Greening has confirmed the Government believes academic selection “can play a role” in the future of state education, amid widespread expectations that Theresa May is set to launch a new generation of grammar schools.

But Ms Greening told the House of Commons there would be no return to the “simplistic” division of children into “winners and losers” at the age of 11.

Cabinet colleague Sir Michael Fallon - whose own constituency in Kent saw the opening of the first new grammar for half a century last year - denied that youngsters who miss out on selection will be consigned to “sink schools”.

Mrs May’s announcement at a private meeting of Conservative MPs that she wanted a system “with an element of selection” has sparked an outcry among some educationalists and opposition politicians.

The Government’s social mobility tsar Alan Milburn warned that grammars could be “a social mobility disaster”, while charity Teach First said: “Education experts are united that the evidence shows grammar schools harm social mobility.

Ms Greening was forced to the despatch box by an urgent question from her Labour shadow Angela Rayner, who warned MPs that an expansion of grammar schools would “entrench inequality and disadvantage”.

The Education Secretary said she remained open-minded on the issue of selection and would announce the Government’s policy in due course.

She told MPs: “We can’t rule anything out that could help us grow opportunity for all and give more people the chance to do well in life. There will be no return to the simplistic, binary choice of the past where schools separate children into winners and losers, successes or failures.”

A “21st-century schools system” will “cater for the talent and abilities of every single child” and provide a “diverse range of schools and specialisms with more good schools in more areas, responding to the needs of every child regardless of their background”, she said.

Sir Michael told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government wanted to offer a “proper choice of good schools” to parents in every part of the country.

Parents would not be faced with “a choice between passing the 11-plus and failing it and having to go off to a sink school of the kind that’s let our children down so badly”, he said.

But Ms Rayner told the Education Secretary: “At a time when our schools are facing a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, with thousands taught in super-sized classes and schools facing real-terms cuts to their budget for the first time in nearly two decades, pushing ahead with grammar schools shows a dangerous misunderstanding of the real issues facing our schools.”

Mrs May told the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives on Wednesday that “selection by house price” already existed within the state school system, with wealthier parents able to ensure a place for their children at high-performing schools by buying homes in the catchment area.

Sam Freedman, the executive director of programmes for charity Teach First, said: “Education experts are united that the evidence shows grammar schools harm social mobility. “Every child deserves the best education and our country needs all young people supported to succeed. Our focus should be on raising standards across the board to end the scandal of disadvantage determining destiny.”

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: “There is already more than an ‘element’ of selection in the system. “Selection is deeply rooted and the warnings on the adverse impact on social mobility are too late.”