Theresa May defended her plans to create hundreds of new grammar schools today – as Labour warned that children who fail to get into them will be left to “rot.”
Theresa May sets out her plans for a new generation of grammar schools in London this morning. Photo credit: PA Images
The Prime Minister also unveiled moves to remove tax breaks for private schools who do not take in enough children from non-privileged backgrounds, as she repeatedly pledged to improve the chances of “ordinary, working class families.”
Limits on how many pupils of a certain religion can be admitted to faith schools will also be lifted, in a move which is particularly aimed at expanding Catholic education.
She insisted the ambitious shake-up – which would overturn decades of education policy by allowing new schools to choose pupils on the basis of their ability – would not lead to a “binary” system of good schools for bright pupils and bad ones for the rest.
But the plans have already come in for widespread criticism, including from Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, who said they would “turn the clock back”.
Responding to her opponents, Mrs May said: “We help no one – not least those who can’t afford to move house or pay for a private education – by saying to parents who want a selective education for their child that we won’t let them have it.
“There is nothing meritocratic about standing in the way of giving our most academically gifted children the specialist and tailored support that can enable them to fulfil their potential.
“In a true meritocracy, we should not be apologetic about stretching the most academically able to the very highest standards of excellence.”
Under the plans, new grammar schools will have to accept a proportion of pupils from lower income households, while also requiring them to either establish a new, non-selective free school in their area or sponsor an under-performing academy.
The reforms will also force universities which want to charge higher fees to either set up a new school or sponsor a poorly-performing one.
May added: “People get lost in the argument about whether the grammars schools of the 1950s and 60s improved social mobility or not.
“But I want to focus on the new grammars of the future: those that will be just one element of a truly diverse system which taken as a whole can give every child the support they need to go as far as their talents can take them. And give every parent access to a good school place for their child.”
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner quickly dismissed May’s plans.
She said: “Grammars are not the answer to this – we have got that evidence already. If grammars were the answer to it I would open them up everywhere tomorrow, but they are not the answer to this issue. I would ask Theresa May to think again.
“I can only conclude that Theresa May is creating a lifeboat for all those children that she wants to do well that can afford to pay for private tuition, while the rest of our kids rot because they have failed to implement policies that will help our children.”
The Prime Minister is also set to face major opposition to her plans from many on her own side.
Tory MP Sarah Wollaston today said her intention to expand faith schools will lead to “segregation” and vowed to vote against them in the Commons.
She said: “I’m opposed to 100% selection by faith. At a time when we should be moving to greater community cohesion and breaking down the barriers, this in my view is completely wrong to be going in a direction of putting those barriers back up and bringing in segregation by the religion of children’s parents.”