Grammar schools 'will work for everyone', Justine Greening vows
Selection in new 21st century grammar schools will increase the options for young people "to truly help make the most of their talents", Education Secretary Justine Greening has claimed.
Ms Greening has outlined a new model of state grammar schools she says should work for everyone, including children from "ordinary working families".
But the blueprint has drawn scathing criticism from some education organisations, with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) saying attempts to justify the expansion of selective schools on the premise it may benefit such families "smacks of desperation".
There is also uncertainty about how the new grammars will be more socially representative, and education union the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said the expansion would "label the majority of children failures" by the age of 11.
There is confusion around the Department for Education's meaning of "ordinary working families", with a DfE document stating there is no official definition and the phrase is instead based on the Government's own criteria.
Ms Greening herself said provisional analysis, still being hammered out, suggested it related to families with a household income of around £33,000.
A Government consultation has suggested families not included in traditional measures of deprivation, but whose household income is below the national average, find it harder to access outstanding schools and perform worse than their wealthier peers.
But the Government says pupils in grammar schools are as likely to be from ordinary working families as children in non-selective schools, with 36% compared to 35% in non-selective schools.
Speaking at St Mary's University in Twickenham, south-west London, Ms Greening said: "Grammars do work for other groups in our society, not just the wealthy.
"The new schools we will create will support young people from every background, not the privileged few.
"Young people on free school meals, those eligible for the pupil premium, young people from ordinary working families that are struggling to get by, I want these new schools to work for everyone.
"This will be a new model of grammars, truly open to all, we will insist on that, and it will reflect the choices of local parents and communities."
A Government consultation has been launched to better understand the needs of ordinary working families, those who tend to live outside inner cities in suburbs and coastal areas and who Ms Greening called the "backbone of our economy".
Forthcoming proposals will outline how to "knit together" the different parts of the education system in a bid to raise attainment, and will be fairer for ordinary working families.
Ms Greening, who herself went to a comprehensive school, said: "Look at the gap in attainment. Less well-off children enter school behind their wealthier peers already.
"Once they get to school they fall further behind because they're less likely to go to a good school."
The new state grammar schools, part of a "much bigger education strategy", will help create a "true meritocracy" in the education system, Ms Greening claimed, and local communities and parents should have the say on whether provision in their areas should include them.
She refused to accept the arguments of those who "critique grammars and selection while simultaneously ignoring the views of parents".
With hundreds of thousands of school places needed across the UK, Ms Greening said the Government would try to stay "ahead of the curve" to meet demand.
She said: "Over the last parliament we delivered an extra 600,000 school places, and we need to do the same over this parliament.
"It's important that we do put the investment in in terms of buildings to make sure the schools are there and the classrooms are there for the children as they get into our school system."
But Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the ASCL, said "tinkering with admission codes" would not hide the fact that such schools would benefit a minority.
He said: "The evidence we have seen does not support the premise that the further expansion of selection will improve education for the majority of young people.
"The evidence indicates that it will have a damaging impact on the life chances of the majority who do not attend a selective school."
The ATL said the rise of new grammars would "damage children's self-confidence and ambition and blight their lives".
General secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: "How does this square with the Government's aims of improving social mobility?
"It will squander the talent and skills of the majority of children and risks losing potential engineers, designers, scientists, doctors, lawyers and teachers from less advantaged families."
Government advisory body the Social Mobility Commission said it remains "very unclear how new grammar schools will be more socially representative".
Urging the Government to move from an "over-reliance on structural reform" to improving the quality of teaching in schools that need it, c hairman Alan Milburn said: "The focus on grammar schools is, at best, a distraction and, at worst, a risk to efforts aimed at narrowing the significant social and geographical divides in educational attainment that bedevil England's school system."
The proposals were welcomed by s ocial mobility champion the Sutton Trust.
Founder Sir Peter Lampl said: "Sutton Trust research has shown that existing grammar schools are socially selective. This is mainly because of the extensive private tuition and prep schools for those who can afford them.
"Through outreach, test preparation and contextual admissions this could be radically changed.
"It is vital that Government focuses its white paper on ensuring that these steps are taken."
Speaking in Doncaster, Jeremy Corbyn was asked what would be his alternative to grammars to make sure children from poorer backgrounds can get a good education.
He said: "My alternative is quite simply this. I wouldn't put £350 million into creating new grammar schools all round the country whilst, at the same time, there's an 8% cut in the spending per head per pupil in all the rest of the schools.
"I'd reverse the cut into the schools concerned and let local authorities, local education authorities, have a say in where the new schools should be.
"Selective schools sound great for those that are selected. The problem is, the majority are not going to be selected.
"And so, the grammar schools, as they are going to be, will cream off the most able pupils, present themselves to the world as a great success for those pupils and the rest of the community is treated in a different way.
"Surely we need to value all our young people.
"If you create a decision at the age of 11, whether a child is able enough or not to go to a grammar school, you're then saying possibly two thirds are not good enough. What's the message to them?
"People develop at different rates. Children develop at different rates. Surely, comprehensive education has delivered us a much more cohesive society. There's got to be something good about that."
Asked if he would abolish existing grammars, Mr Corbyn said: "That's a matter for local authorities to decide on existing grammar schools. We would say no new grammar schools."