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Theresa May Announces Plans To Reintroduce School Selection

Prime Minister's plans to increase number of 'good school places' will see opening of new grammar schools, existing schools given powers to select pupils, and universities and public schools called upon to share their resources and expertise...

  • Theresa May Announces Plans To Reintroduce School Selection

In a speech this morning to the British Academy this morning, Prime Minister Theresa announced a series of measures that would see the the re-introduction of school selection across the education system.

The 1998 Schools Standards and Framework Act introduced under Tony Blair’s Labour government prohibited the opening of any new selective grammar schools in addition to the 164 that remained at the time, following a shift towards educating pupils at non-selective comprehensive schools. Today signalled May’s intention to break with that arrangement.

“For too long we have tolerated a system that contains an arbitrary rule preventing selective schools from being established,” she said. “Sacrificing children’s potential because of dogma and ideology. The truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and its selection by house price, selection by wealth. That is simply unfair.”

May went on to outline a series of new proposals intended to increase the number of ‘good school places’, which the government will consult on:

• Newly opened grammars, or those that opt to expand under the new legislation, will be required to take a proportion of pupils from lower income households unable to move to different catchment area, or cover the costs of tuition for entry tests

• Existing non-selective schools will be given the power to select pupils in response to parental demand

• New or expanded grammars would alternatively be required to open high quality non-selective free schools; establish or sponsor primary feeder schools in low incomes areas; or sponsor an underperforming non-selective academy.

• Similar requirements will be placed on independent schools, who will be required to set up new free schools or sponsor existing academies as a condition of retaining their charitable status.

• £50 million will be made available annually to support the expansion of good or existing grammars

With the DfE having taken on responsibility for further education earlier this year, universities will also have a role to play in the new arrangments. Universities that charge tuition fees at the higher rate of £6000 and above will be required to set up a new free school or sponsor an existing academy.

These obligations will eventually form part of the Director for Fair Access (DfA)‘s guidance to universities concerning the access agreements that insititutions must abide by in order to charge the higher rate of fees. The government will set out its own guidance to the DfA in due course.

Finally, May also proposed a lifting of the current admissions cap on faith schools, whereby faith schools which are oversubscribed are prevented from selecting more than 50% of their intake on the basis of faith. The reasoning given for the move is that the existing 50% measure failed to increase the diversity of faith schools, and prevented the opening of new Catholic schools.

The BBC has quoted a source at Number 10, who described Catholic schools as “More successful, more popular and more ethnically diverse than other types of state school.” The source went on to add that, “We’re going to change the rule, so we can allow new Catholic schools to open, while making faith schools of all kinds do more to make sure their pupils integrate with children of other backgrounds.”

The Social Media Reaction

In favour

Those welcoming some or all of the proposals included…

Against

...while among those expressing reservations or outright opposition to the plans were…

Main image via Flickr user Number 10

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