Are they on the way back?
Legislation doesnt allow for establishment of new Grammar schools, but existing ones can expand
For some grammar schools ( wholly selective state schools) are elitist institutions (they select pupils at 11) which restrict educational opportunity to a small, already-privileged minority and damage other local schools by cream skimming the top pupils, while damaging the self-esteem of a majority of pupils who fail to make the grade. For others, they are a method for achieving high educational standards which benefit the whole of society and provide a ladder of opportunity for children from poor backgrounds to clamber out of the cycle of disadvantage.
Andrew Neil, the former editor of the Sunday Times, now a commentator in the broadcast media, made a documentary about a year ago on grammar schools .In it he argued that the grammar schools provided bright working-class and lower-middle class children with a route to educational and career success. Far from being elitist and unfair institutions, they were actually effective engines of social mobility, he argued. One of the most striking pieces of evidence for Neil’s thesis is the social background of UK Prime Ministers. Between the Eton-educated Alec Douglas-Home and the Fettes-educated Tony Blair, five successive UK Prime Ministers were from modest backgrounds and four were educated at grammar schools.
Grammar schools undoubtedly polarise opinion and the arguments over selection are rearing their heads again, following the allegation that a new grammar school is being set up in Sevenoaks. A campaign in Sevenoaks, which has no grammar school of its own, to provide for its brightest children raised a petition of 2,600 names. At present 1,120 of the town’s children have to travel to selective schools in nearby towns. The council’s recent decision means an annexe associated with these schools can now be built in Sevenoaks.
The Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the Academies Act 2010 effectively mean that there can be no ‘new’ grammar schools (ie in addition to the 164 grammar school already operating). However, it is also the case that any school can seek to expand by opening another site, which has been allowed since 1944. But to do so it must be a continuance of the original school. Hence, the compromise endorsed by councillors in Sevenoaks. The promised extra provision in Sevenoaks will not be in a ‘new’ grammar school, but in two “satellites”, each with 60 places, run by existing grammars in other towns.
What does the government think about this? Does this amount to a drive to set up new grammar schools and broaden selection in the maintained sector? This government isn’t in fact advocating the establishment of ‘new’ grammar schools. But it doesn’t see a problem with expanding existing grammar schools. Indeed, Nick Gibb, the schools Minister, addressing the Grammar School Heads Association recently said existing selective schools “would be able to take advantage of crucial freedoms” on admissions. This includes making it easier for popular schools to expand and scrapping rules requiring schools to consult the local community on admissions rules every five years. More grammars should also convert into independent academies, he added, giving them additional powers over the curriculum, staff pay and the academic year. Junior Minister Lord Hill said recently in the Lords “if people want to come forward with a proposal to open or expand a satellite school, they can apply to the local authority, and to the Secretary of State in the case of an academy. Those proposals would be looked at on a case-by-case basis.” Lord Hill was keen to add though that in respect of free schools or the academy conversion programme ” we have been absolutely clear in the Academies Act that we have taken the opposite view and have not permitted or encouraged the expansion of selection within the maintained system. We have said-this is the point about the admissions code-that all schools, whether maintained, non-selective or selective, should have the ability, in response to parental demand, to increase their published admissions number. That is the only change that has been made.” The conservatives see the grammar school issue as divisive and they will not open up another front now, in championing new grammar schools, which would also threaten real divisions within the coalition. That said, there is a grey area surrounding the expansion of existing grammar schools, and there is every likelihood that there will be more expansion of these schools.
To recap- A single school can operate from more than one site, but to do so ‘ any other site must be a continuance of the original school.’ But new wholly selective state schools are not permitted under existing legislation.
It would be rash, though, to assume that all grammar schools wish to expand. And indeed of those who rather like the idea of scaling up not all will have the space or capital to do so.