New grammar schools would help more children fulfil their academic promise

New grammar schools would help more children fulfil their academic promise

There’s been a sweeping change of the guard at the top of our political establishment, with a grammar school educated Prime Minster now at the helm and the first-ever Education Secretary to have attended a comprehensive secondary school.

Since Theresa May and Justine Greening, the new Education Secretary, took hold of the reins of power, the noises from Whitehall suggest that the two-decade ban on building new grammar schools will be coming to an end.

It has now been reported that Theresa May is expected to announce this historic change in education policy before the end of the year, with the move forming part of her overall strategy to improve social cohesion.

May will have strong support for the plan from within the Conservative Party and from the wider public – research has shown 7 in 10 voters would support an end to the ban on new grammar schools.

I, along with many others who work in education, view the Blair government’s decision to ban the opening of new grammar schools in this country as tantamount to failing some of our most gifted children.

It is my firm belief that having a mixed state education provision of academies, local authority schools and grammar schools is a must if more of our children are to realise their academic potential.

The current secondary education system is overheating with many aspirant parents from all backgrounds wanting their children to learn in a highly academic environment – pushing up house prices in areas with the best schools and making competition very tough for the few grammar schools that exist.

This ambition is completely understandable, but it has often resulted in lower-income groups effectively being priced out of the market and unable to attend the best state schools.

The reality is that many children from poorer backgrounds go to badly-performing comprehensive schools that are in socially deprived areas, whereas wealthier children go to comprehensives in leafy suburbs that are performing well.

The end result is that the comprehensive system has become more about who can afford housing in the best catchment areas, which is socially divisive and is not as fair as selecting children on the basis of their ability.

It is important that we encourage children from all backgrounds to take pride in their academic ability.

The top echelons of society are becoming increasingly dominated by those who were privately educated, a trend that I find deeply concerning.

An increase in the number of grammar schools in this country will ensure children from all social backgrounds are able to rise to the top.

As it stands, parents are flocking to the relatively small amount of areas that still retain a grammar school system, meaning that house prices there have been pushed up.

The ever-increasing demand for grammar school places has also meant that entry procedures have become tighter, with higher scores than ever required to gain a place.

This has resulted in more and more parents turning to tuition to give their child the best possible chance of passing the 11+.

This would all be eased by increasing the supply of places and thereby paving the way for bright working-class children to attend grammar schools.

Justine Greening and her team are currently thrashing out the details of how the new grammar schools would operate within the existing secondary education framework.

I would appeal to them to make one key change to the current grammar school selection system; introduce additional stages for entry.

Entry at age eleven can still take place, but there is no reason why schools could not also hold a 13+ exam so children who academically develop later have the chance to apply.

We need to find a way to help all children achieve their academic potential, and I’m confident that a modernised grammar school system will help us succeed in this.