Whenever there’s a new government, the whole education sector waits with bated breath to see what new reforms will be unveiled. However due to somewhat of a blunder earlier this week, one of the government’s biggest plans was leaked earlier this week – confirmed by recent news. Theresa May plans to unveil her plans on grammar schools during her first domestic policy speech as Prime Minister.
Grammar schools have been under the radar over the last decade due changes during the mid-90s. However plans for new grammar schools appear to have been accidentally revealed earlier in the week, after an education department official was photographed with a document containing the details.
The memo, clutched in Earl Howe’s hand, was photographed in Downing Street that appeared to show proposals to work with existing grammar schools to prove they can be both expanded and reformed ahead of a move to open new ones. The leaked document, signed off by Johnathan Slater, refers to a “con doc” – civil service slang for “consultation document” – and claims that such a document will say the government plans to open new grammar schools, under certain conditions.
The picture, leaked on social media site, Twitter, prompted calls for an urgent statement to Parliament about the government’s plans, as well as speculation about how ministers might approach lifting the ban on new selective schools that were imposed by Tony Blair’s government in the 1990s. This statement has since been confirmed, with regular live updates to the news as it happens.
The memo seemingly explained that the education secretary, Justine Greening, wants new grammars to be presented as an option that is “only to be pursued once we have worked with existing grammars to show how they can be expanded and reformed”.
For those unfamiliar with grammar schools, they are state secondaries that select their pupils by setting an entrance exam at age 11. Out of 3,000 state secondary schools in England, 163 are grammar schools.
The document stated that the government wholeheartedly wants to avoid disadvantaging those who don’t get in, which is currently a key criticism of existing selective schools, and was one of the drawbacks of grammar schools in their prime.
As a result, the leaked document, and corresponding announcements, show that the government is actively working towards lifting the ban. Such a move however is likely to face strong opposition from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
The leaked sheet of paper stated that Earl Howe didn’t know what the new Prime Minister thinks of the ideas, but does speculate about apparent difficulties in getting the House of Lords to squash the ban on new grammar schools. It’s worth noting that the Prime Minister herself went to a grammar school, so is likely to favour the idea. But as the government commands a majority of just 12 in the House of Commons, but the Conservatives have no majority in the House of Lords. And Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader has been quoted as saying that the party will continue to oppose the plans and stop them from pushing it “through the back door”.
What are your views on grammar schools – did you go to one?