Grammars 'unnecessary distraction', say MPs

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MPs are not convinced that grammars can really boost social mobility

The government has so far failed to make the case for opening a new wave of grammar schools in England, say MPs.

The education select committee has cast doubt on claims that they can help social mobility.

There is also scepticism about whether an entrance test for grammars can be made “tutor proof”.

Neil Carmichael, the committee’s chair, says the focus on expanding grammars has become an “unnecessary distraction” from improving the school system.

The committee, 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.

Funding warning

MPs said there had been no convincing evidence that a test could be devised which would not favour those who could afford private coaching.

As such they argued that such tests should not be the only criteria for entry.

The MPs also raised concerns about how an expansion of grammars would affect other non-selective schools, in terms of funding and the supply of teachers.

The committee called on the government to carry out an assessment of the potential impact on the wider school system.

Head teachers wrote to MPs last week to express their “incredulity” that grammar schools were being offered extra funds to expand places, while they were facing job cuts because of deepening pressures on their budgets.

The cross-party committee also highlighted the vagueness of the plans so far – with no clear outline of how many grammar schools would be created or how local demand for such grammars would be measured.

There were also questions about whether this push for academic selection should be a priority when there had been so many concerns about vocational skills shortages.

“The focus on opening new grammar schools is, in my view, an unnecessary distraction from the need to ensure all our young people are equipped with the skills to compete in the modern workplace,” said Mr Carmichael.

Top 10%

Since the prime minister last year announced the ambition to create new grammars, there have been few details of how this might be put into practice.

But last week the Grammar School Heads’ Association published details of a private meeting with education ministers, where they discussed options for expanding selection.

This suggested that new grammar schools could open from 2020 – but in the meantime there would be £150m funding to expand existing grammars or to introduce grammar streams 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.

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