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Theresa May attacked over claims she plans green light for grammar schools

Published 07/08/2016

Tim Farron said the Lib Dems would work to block any Tory attempt to create new grammar schools
Tim Farron said the Lib Dems would work to block any Tory attempt to create new grammar schools

Prime Minister Theresa May has come under fire over claims she is planning to give the green light to a new wave of selective grammar schools.

Opposition parties reacted with fury to reports that selective education may be back on the agenda, vowing to fight a system which Labour spokeswoman Angela Rayner said should be placed "in the dustbin of history".

The Sunday Telegraph reported that the PM could announce she is lifting the ban on new grammar schools as early as the October Conservative conference.

Downing Street did not deny the report, but said only that any change in policy would be announced "in due course".

A Number 10 spokesman said: " The Prime Minister has been clear that we need to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

"Every child should be allowed to rise as far as their talents will take them and birth should never be a barrier.

"Policies on education will be set out in due course."

Education Secretary Justine Greening last month confirmed that the issue was in her "in tray" for consideration, and said that she was "prepared to be open-minded" about school selection.

But she signalled that this might not mean a return to the old pattern of grammars and secondary moderns by stressing that education was no longer a "binary" world and that there was already a range of different types of school on offer.

Mrs May is thought to be a supporter of new selective schools, having backed a grammar school's proposal to open a new "annexe" in her Maidenhead constituency.

And the PM's new chief of staff Nick Timothy has also backed new selective schools in the past.

Mrs May's predecessor David Cameron annoyed some Conservative backbenchers by resisting the creation of new grammar schools, focusing his education policy instead on academies and free schools which do not select on ability at the age of 11.

Any return to the grammar system can be expected to be divisive.

Opponents argue that the 11-plus exam led to elite schools dominated by middle-class children while the majority of young people from poorer backgrounds received sub-standard education in secondary moderns.

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson said: "The Labour Party opposes Theresa May's plan to bring back secondary modern schools in England."

And shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: "Rather than harking back to a mythical 'golden age' of grammar schools, the Tories must work tirelessly to improve every school in the country, to work with teachers to drive up standards, and to give our schools the investment they need in the 21st century.

"Selection belongs in the dustbin of history and has no place in modern society. There must be no going back."

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "Lib Dems will work to block any Tory attempt to create grammar schools."

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith said that it was a sign of the party's ineffectiveness under Jeremy Corbyn that Mrs May believed she could "get away with" a return to selection.

"If Theresa May is planning to reintroduce grammar schools then it would be a backward step for our education system.

" Grammar schools entrench disadvantage - they don't overturn it," said Mr Owen.

"But it's a sign of the weakness of Labour as an opposition that the Tories think they can get away with it.

"Not under my leadership - I'll lead a strong opposition to these proposals and we will fight tooth and nail to see them defeated."

Mr Farron said he was ready to work with opponents of selection from across the political spectrum to ensure that grammar schools became Mrs May's "first U-turn as Prime Minister".

"I am happy to work with people on all sides, from modernising Conservatives to the opposition parties, to block this retrograde plan," said the Lib Dem leader.

"The Government's majority is tiny - Theresa May needs to see the danger signs.

"I am committed to making sure this issue is Theresa May's first U-turn as Prime Minister.

"A new generation of grammar schools would help a very small number of the richest children while ignoring the needs of millions more children who are already suffering from underfunded schools.

"Even some Conservatives will agree with me that this simply wouldn't be right."

The general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mary Bousted, said: "A Government that is serious about social mobility would not allow the expansion of selective schools.

"All children deserve to have a first-class education, not just those whose parents can afford the private tuition to help them pass the 11-plus. Instead of allowing grammar schools to expand, the Government should concentrate on tackling the shortage of teachers so all children are taught by qualified teachers."

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