Home   Blogs   Article   Author

The government has left the door ajar to new grammars despite what it says

Is the Conservative government out to resurrect grammar schools after giving the green light to a new annexe at Sevenoaks?

The education secretary Nicky Morgan has emphatically denied the claim and says the go-ahead was based on legislation that permits expansions of popular over-subscribed schools - as undoubtedly the Weald of Kent Girls Grammar is.

Taken at face value, her comments would appear to close down the prospects of a new generation of selective schools, something many Conservatives are desperate to see.

On the annexe proposal, it is worth pointing out the original campaign was based on the argument that the difficulties of securing local places was more pronounced than it was for girls.

Something that has been rather overlooked in the ensuing debate has been the contention by campaigners that boys have been left “high and dry” and the government’s decision does nothing to change that.

It is also worth emphasising that the annexe is in an area where there are a number of private prep schools who make a virtue of their ability to secure grammar school places for pupils.

There can be no guarantee that the additional places that will become available will necessarily go to children from state primaries - not even taking into account that further pressure could come from adjoining London boroughs, something that happens at grammars in north Kent.

There is a lot at stake here for both pro and anti-selection supporters, which makes it more rather than less likely that the decision on Sevenoaks will end up in the courts.

Having spoken to some in the anti-selection camp, there is a strong view that if they can get the financial support, then a legal challenge will be made which has the potential for the decision to become mired in a legal tussle.

There is a view that the decision is not entirely logical: The Weald of Kent is considered near enough to act as a sponsor of the annexe but far enough away from Sevenoaks children to warrant its creation.

The government has implicitly acknowledged that by saying it expects all pupils at the Weald of Kent will have to spend some lesson time at the new annexe - how that will go down with parents will be interesting to see.

But the decision does leave the door just slightly ajar to grammar enthusiasts. David Cameron is not among them, of course.

But his decision to stand aside in 2020 means those pitching for his job have the option of committing themselves to ending the current ban on entirely new selective schools.

Amid all the debate, one issue that warrants debate is whether grammar schools in Kent are doing enough to address the question of social mobility.

It is to Kent County Council’s credit that it has recognised that in parts of the county a huge private coaching culture has developed which skews the chances of getting a grammar school place to those who can afford private tuition.

The introduction of a new exam by KCC was aimed at partly addressing this problem but the jury is out.

Tuition books are still easy to find in shops and it doesn’t seem to have deterred the proliferation of private tuition companies.

Kent could look at what Birmingham is doing by admitting a quota of pupils on free school meals and lowering the pass mark for the test.

Many grammars are, however you cut it, no longer agents of social mobility in the way they were intended to be.

But that is not to say they can't be - or indeed should be.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More