New grammar schools must target deprived areas

New grammar schools must target deprived areas

If relinquishing the ban on new grammar schools is going to have a real chance of increasing social mobility it’s crucial that more deprived areas are targeted first.

I have often argued that parents need a choice of all education offerings in whichever town they live.

Currently, there are far too many parents with no choice open to them at all.

For too long we have seen a child’s future decided by a postcode lottery and their parent’s ability to afford to live in key school catchment areas.

The best performing academies and LEA schools are predominately in the leafy suburbs, creating a sought after catchment area that further pushes up property prices – and makes these schools primarily the domain of the wealthy.

Santander revealed in September that in London, a £71,500 premium is added to the asking price of a home near a good secondary school – equivalent to an additional 15 per cent above the average house price.

Outside London, the premium is 11 per cent – or just under £24,000 – for the right home near the right school.

Meanwhile, bright poorer children have no choice but to go to their local school, as their parents cannot afford to move into catchment areas for good schools.

And unfortunately, as evidence shows, the poorer performing schools tend to be in the most deprived areas in the country.

Children living in the most disadvantaged parts are 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than those living in the richest, as revealed by the Social Mobility Commission last month.

Another north-south divide has reared its ugly head, this time in education, with schools in the south outperforming those in the north –as reported last week by Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Surely it was never the vision of the architects of the Comprehensive movement that a two-tier system has been created by stealth, in which the poor and the north suffer most?

Rescinding the ban on new grammar schools can go some way to rectifying this – but only if directed in the right places.

I therefore warmly welcome the recent report from the Centre for Social Justice calling on the government to build a new wave of grammar schools in the most deprived areas first.

If the government only invests in existing grammar schools and areas with grammar schools already in them, then Theresa May is not going to fulfil her social mobility dream.

I’d urge the government to grab this opportunity and help make a real difference to young people who have the academic potential to thrive but are currently being lost in the system.

These bright young children who just need that opportunity to shine are being denied it because of the area they live in.

And I’m not just talking about the children who are on free school meals – the yardstick by which all poverty seems to be measured in education – but also those from the ‘just managing to get by’ families.

For our country to best succeed in a post-Brexit future, a strong education system across the whole country is of paramount importance.

And in my view, this will be best achieved by giving all parents a choice on where to send their children, whether it is a technical college, academy, comprehensive or grammar school.

That is why I’d like to see a grammar school in every major town and city.

More grammar schools would reduce the demand for places and mean entry systems would not have to be quite as difficult to access as they are now.

I’d also like to see another entry-level, at a higher age like 13, so that a child does not have just one opportunity at 11 to apply for these schools.

And finally, like Germany, we also need more schools providing a technical-based education offering to better prepare young people for work and provide an avenue for young people that are not necessarily academic.

Grammar schools alone are not the sole solution but if introduced correctly can make a huge difference to so many young people’s lives.