MPs have argued the government has failed to provide sufficient evidence to show opening new grammar schools would improve social mobility and the quality of education for all pupils.
The Department for Education (DfE) has argued that removing the ban on opening new grammars will be a way of making “more good school places available, to more parents, in more parts of the country”.
The cross-party committee of MPs, responding to the evidence gathered about plans to increase selective education, said ministers still needed to demonstrate how this would improve social mobility and close the gap between rich and poor pupils.
Since Theresa May announced her plans to lift the ban on new grammars brought in under Tony Blair’s government there has not been any details on how this might be implemented.
Last week the Grammar School Heads’ Association published details of a private meeting with education ministers. The document suggests that new grammar schools could open from 2020 and in the meantime there would £150m allocated to expand existing grammars or to introduce grammar steams through academy trusts.
There was also a suggestion that these new grammars would be much more selective than traditional grammars, with places for the top 10% of the ability range.
Another idea was that there would be a single national entry test for grammars, rather than a range of local tests, with the aim of designing an exam that would be more resistant to coaching by private tutors.
A DfE spokeswoman said that grammar schools have a “track record of closing the attainment gap to almost zero between children on free school meals and their better off classmates.”
The spokeswoman said that “99% of grammar schools are rated good or outstanding; and even when you take higher ability intakes into account pupils still perform better in selective schools than in non-selective schools.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said: “When even the Conservative-dominated education select committee calls Theresa May’s new grammar schools an ‘unnecessary distraction’, it’s time that ministers finally sat up and took notice.”
“There is a crisis in teacher recruitment, schools budgets are being cut for the first time in decades and hundreds of thousands of pupils are in super-sized classes. The Tories should be keeping their pledge to protect school funding rather than pressing ahead with this policy,” she said.
John Pugh, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesman, said: “Instead of ploughing ahead with these divisive plans, Theresa May should address the £3bn funding black hole facing our schools over the next five years.”
Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, backed the calls for the government to show evidence that new grammars could close the attainment gap – when less than 3% of grammar school entrants are eligible for free school meals.
“Until existing grammar schools demonstrate they can be vehicles for social mobility, the number of grammar schools should not be increased,” said Sir Peter.
Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the report showed the government had lost the argument on grammar schools and called for a rethink of the policy.
“To focus on schools that ignore 90% of the population is a massive distraction. To pour millions of pounds into this system when state school budgets are at breaking point is a terrible use of public funds. No other high-performing education system in the world uses selection at 11. It is too late to counter disadvantage. The government would do better to invest more in early years education, where the evidence shows you can make more of an impact on a child’s future prospects.”
“There is strong evidence that selection at 11 damages outcomes overall. There is no support for this from school leaders; the plans to expand selection should be rethought entirely.”
February 14, 2017