It’s alleged that almost 3,000 new places will be created out from a £50 million fund for new classrooms, with a separate £50 million fund designated to focus on poorer pupils.
The intentions are stated as to “end middle class stranglehold over Grammar Schools” and in order to be eligible for this funding schools will be required to detail their plans to recruit disadvantaged children.
Modern grammar schools were driven forwards in the period immediately after WWII, with the aim of giving a rigorous education to those brightest children whose parents could not afford private schools.
However, a changing political climate let to many being closed during the late 60’s and into the early 70’s, resulting in only 163 remaining in only a few locations within the UK.
This limited supply of places allied to a very strong demand from parents has resulted in a fiercely competitive pre-test timetable for prospective applicants in the run up to the eleven-plus exam dates.
Mr Gibb said: ‘We do think that the children getting into grammar schools should more closely reflect the population that they are serving. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are just as capable of getting into grammar school.’
It’s felt that rather than close grammar schools, by expanding them or creating new grammar schools, competition for places can be reduced and less-affluent parents may be more able to have their children attend.
Yes, no, yes, to more grammar school places
Previous governments have vacillated over whether to allow Grammar schools to either expand, or to permit new ones to be set up, as can be seen from this Commons Briefing Paper dated 3rd October 2018.
The consultation, ‘Schools that work for everyone’, was published on 12 September 2016 with the consultation closing on 12 December 2016.
It was then followed by the Conservative manifesto for the 2017 General Election which stated they intended to lift the ban on new selective schools if re-elected.
However, subsequent to the loss of the Conservative majority at the election, that intention did not make it into the Queen’s Speech in June 2017, with the Government subsequently confirming that the ongoing ban on new grammar schools would continue in force.
Possible funding for grammar school expansion
On 23rd November 2016, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement contained details of £200m of funding for selective school expansion. The Selective School Expansion Fund was been established to allocate the first £50m of this during 2018-19, with applications being held open until 19 July 2018.
Has there already been expansion by the back door?
In a BBC article dated 1st August 2018 by Branwen Jeffreys, titled, “Grammar schools: Thousands of new places created“, it was revealed that between 2010 and 2018 there had been an increase of 11,000 pupils being taught in grammar schools.
This increase has occurred prior to and was separate from any distribution of the new £50m growth fund.
By applying the same growth model the BBC had calculated that between August 2018 (the date of the BBC article) and 2021, the equivalent of eight extra grammar schools would have been ‘created’, or 24 schools if 2010 was used as the start date for the calculation.
Grammar schools have always been a controversial ‘hot topic’ because of their ‘top slicing’ approach of only allowing access by those students who pass a strict entrance exam.
Once in, however, students often receive an education significantly better than pupils in nearby state schools can be expected to receive.
Tutoring – The secret weapon of the middle-class parent
Because of the educational benefits accorded to pupils who can secure a grammar school place, many parents elect to pay for a tutor to help their child prepare for the entry tests.
This is because many of the elements of the eleven plus tests aren’t taught in primary schools and so with the benefit of practice, just like any sports or studies, children have a greater opportunity to achieve a higher result than those who don’t prepare at all.
This may mean tutoring over the 2-3 years before the exams, since limited places create a competitive environment for the scarce resources available.
Historically, few parents outside the middle-class environment have paid for tutoring, which is why the government is targeting these funds in an effort to give places to children from families on benefits or low earnings.
It will be interesting, therefore, to see what amount of the funding available is actually released to build new grammar schools and where they might be located.
Photo credit: Gateshead Grammar School 1959 Intake in 1963