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Grammar schools to get £50m expansion fund

Ministers said the plan will give parents more choice but critics say ‘scarce funding’ could be spent elsewhere.

Grammar schools are to be handed tens of millions of pounds to allow them to expand, the government has said.

Under controversial new plans, £50 million is to be pumped into creating more places at selective state schools – a move that ministers said will give parents more choice.

But school leaders criticised the decision, saying they were “disappointed” that the Government was spending “scarce funding” on expanding grammars.

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Grammar schools in England

Grammars that want to take on more pupils will have to submit plans setting out what action they will take to boost the numbers of disadvantaged pupils they admit – similar to the access agreements signed by universities that want to charge £9,250 tuition fees.

Schools – which select pupils based on academic ability – will also have to show proof of a need for extra places in their area.

There are 163 grammar schools in England and, if all were given an equal share of the £50 million pot (which will be available in the 2018/19 academic year), they would receive just over £300,000 each.

As well as individual agreements, there will be a memorandum of understanding with the Grammar School Heads’ Association (GSHA), which represents the majority of selective school leaders, which will set out the types of action schools will need to take in order to expand.

It is understood that there will be sanctions if grammar schools do not meet the terms of their action plans.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said hundreds of thousands of new places have been created since 2010, but the Government wants to “make sure every family can access a good school”.

“By creating new schools where they are needed most and helping all great schools to grow, we can give parents greater choice in looking at schools that are right for their family – and give children of all backgrounds access to a world-class education,” he said.

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Education Secretary Damian Hinds (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are disappointed that the government has decided to spend scarce funding on expanding grammar schools.

“While there are many good selective schools, just as there are many good non-selective schools, the evidence is clear that expanding the number of selective places is likely to be damaging to social mobility.”

He added: “High-ability students do just as well in good non-selective schools as they do in good grammar schools, and funding is therefore better spent on creating places in the former rather than the latter. This is important at any time but particularly so when funding is very tight as a result of government under-investment in the education system.”

GSHA chief executive Jim Skinner, said: “We are very pleased that, like other good and outstanding schools, selective schools now have access to a fund to allow them to expand their premises.

This is particularly important at a time when there are increasing numbers of pupils reaching secondary age and such high demand from parents for selective school places.

The confirmation of cash for grammar schools is likely to be seen as a revival of Theresa May’s pledge to expand selective education.

Controversial proposals to lift the ban on creating new grammar schools were a key part of the Conservative manifesto in last year’s snap general election, but the plans were dropped in the wake of the election result, which saw the Tories lose their overall majority.

But grammars can still take on more pupils under existing rules that allow good state schools to expand.

Critics of selective education argue that these schools do not help improve social mobility.

Figures show that as of March 2017, around 2.6% of grammar school pupils are on free school meals, compared to 14.1% across all school types.

Under the latest proposals, the 50% cap on the proportion of pupils that faith schools can admit based on religion will remain, but funding will be given to create new voluntary aided schools – which are run with local council involvement – if there is local demand.

These schools can have up to 100% admission based on faith.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The Government cannot point to a single piece of evidence that shows strong educational benefit of this misguided policy. While it may benefit a small minority, it will not close the gap between rich and poor pupils and if anything will increase the divide.

“School budgets are at breaking point. The state-funded school system is rapidly heading towards insolvency. To pursue such an elitist policy as expanding grammars at a time of crisis is a distraction at best. This money should be spent for the benefit of all children, not just the tiny number who attend grammar schools.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The grammar school corpse has climbed out of its coffin once again despite evidence of the damage that selective education causes. Once prior attainment and pupil background is taken into account, research shows there is no overall attainment impact of grammar schools, either positive or negative.”

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The Government cannot point to a single piece of evidence that shows strong educational benefit of this misguided policy. While it may benefit a small minority, it will not close the gap between rich and poor pupils and if anything will increase the divide.

“School budgets are at breaking point. The state-funded school system is rapidly heading towards insolvency. To pursue such an elitist policy as expanding grammars at a time of crisis is a distraction at best. This money should be spent for the benefit of all children, not just the tiny number who attend grammar schools.”

While it may benefit a small minority, it will not close the gap between rich and poor pupils and if anything will increase the divide Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of NAHT

Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “It is good the Department for Education wants to work with councils to create new faith schools where they are needed, but we are clear that the current limit of 50% selection by faith criteria should remain in place.“Government should also not just focus exclusively on selective, faith schools and free schools. The most effective way to set up new schools and meet the demand for school places would be to give councils the powers and funding to open new council-maintained schools where there is a need for additional places.”

For Labour, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “Once again, the Government is pursuing its own vanity projects rather than following the evidence on what is best for pupils. They promised ‘schools that work for everyone’, but this policy just doesn’t live up to the label.

“The continued obsession with grammar schools will do nothing for the vast majority of children, and it is absurd for ministers to push ahead with plans to expand them when the evidence is clear that they do nothing to improve social mobility.”

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