Theresa May, the Prime Minister. Credit Carl Court
By Peter Dominiczak, Political Editor and Javier Espinoza, Education Editor
6 September 2016 • 7:56pm
Theresa May is to create a new generation of grammar schools that will prioritise poor and disadvantaged pupils.
A leaked document on Tuesday confirmed that the Prime Minister intends to push ahead with controversial plans for selective schools despite fierce opposition from Labour and teaching unions.
On Tuesday an official was photographed on his way into Downing Street holding a document which said that the Government “will open new grammars”.
Pupils fill an exam hall to take a GCSE exam
The paper acknowledged that new laws will be required to open grammar schools and warned that the House of Lords may attempt to defeat Mrs May’s bid to end the ban on new selective schools, imposed by former Labour prime minister Tony Blair in 1998.
Tory MPs welcomed the news and said that grammar schools “are popular wherever they exist”.
The Telegraph understands that under Mrs May’s plans, grammar schools will be told to favour poor pupils during the admissions process if they have similar levels of academic performance to their more well-off counterparts.
It is believed the Government will in the coming weeks announce that it wants to see more than 20 new grammar schools across the country, the majority in deprived areas.
The document, signed by Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary of the education department, states: “The con doc (consultation document) says we will open new grammars, albeit that they would have to follow various conditions.
“The SoS’s (Secretary of State’s) clear position is that this should be presented in the con doc as an option, and only to be pursued once we have worked with existing grammars to show how they can be expanded and reformed in ways which avoid disadvantaging those who don’t get in.
“I simply don’t know what the PM thinks of this, but it sounds reasonable to me, and I simply can’t see any way of persuading the Lords to vote for selection on any other basis.”
Sources familiar with the plans said the Government is looking to pacify critics by putting pressure on existing grammar schools to give priority to students on the pupil premium, which they would be able to do easily under current changes.
Theresa May wants to create new grammar schools across the country
Recent changes in the admissions code which apply to oversubscribed schools mean head teachers have the freedom to give admissions priority to pupils from disadvantaged background. This is a liberty that state schools do not have.
Under the plans, grammar schools would first prioritise equally academically able students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds to allocate a place and then would look at others not on the pupil premium, which provides schools additional funding for more disadvantaged students.
The admissions process would not have a fixed quota for students on the pupil premium but would consider their application ahead of the rest.
For example, if a grammar school received a similar number of applications from well able students but half were on the pupil premium and half weren’t, those from disadvantaged backgrounds would be allocated a place first.
“This way you don’t disadvantage those smart pupils who have traditionally not been able to get in,” a source familiar with the plans told the Daily Telegraph.
The Government refused to comment on the document but did not deny its contents.
A spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister has been clear that we need to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
“We are looking at a range of options to allow more children to access a school that lets them rise as far as their talents will take them.
“Policies on education will be set out in due course and it would be inappropriate to comment further on internal government documents.”
Graham Brady, the Tory MP for Altrincham and Sale West and long-time supporter of selective schools, said: “Grammar schools are popular wherever they exist. There is a strong case for getting rid of the statutory prohibition on new grammar schools to allow parents and communities the type of education that they want.”
Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow education secretary, accused the Government of prioritising the interests of a few of the highest performing pupils at the expense of the majority.
She said: “The cat is out of the bag: behind closed doors the Tories are planning a return to the bad old days of grammars, ignoring all the evidence which has told us time and again that they do not aid social mobility.”
Unison, which represents thousands of education workers, said new grammar schools would make the system more elitist.
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