The Department for Education (DfE) has today announced that it will:
open a Selective Schools Expansion Fund of £50 million for existing selective (grammar) schools to expand their premises to create new places. To access the money, which is available in 2018-19 schools will have to submit a Fair Access and Partnership Plan setting out actions to increase admissions of disadvantaged pupils;
develop a scheme to help create new voluntary-aided schools to meet local demand. Schools that open under this route can open with up to 100% faith based admissions and providers will have to contribute 10% to capital costs. The DfE intend to work with local authorities to create schools in areas of need;
facilitate universities’ and independent schools’ partnerships with state schools. A dedicated unit has been established in the DfE for this purpose and a Joint Understanding with the Independent Schools Council has been made;
open the next wave of free school applications targeted at areas in which there is a demand for places and a need to raise standards.
These measures are a significantly watered down version of those put forward in the 2016 ‘Schools that work for everyone’ consultation, which proposed a change in legislation to allow new grammar schools to open and a change in the rules to allow new free schools to be selective on the basis of faith (currently there is a cap of 50% faith based admissions in the oversubscription criteria). The government’s response to the consultation has been published this morning.
Emma Knights, chief executive at the National Governance Association said: “Governors and trustees, alongside school leaders, have repeatedly told the government that funding pressures cannot be managed without adversely affecting children’s education. Despite acknowledging this challenge, the government has opted to support a select few children instead of improving education funding for every pupil. The National Governance Association is concerned that the Department for Education is ignoring the evidence: this preference for selective schools acts against its desire to improve social mobility. It neglects the needs of our most vulnerable pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs. Although the funding concerned is small, the announcement today demonstrates that the government has got its education priorities wrong.”
NGA opposed the opening of new grammar schools (see our consultation response in full). While we continue to be of the view that these are the wrong priorities for the DfE at a time when school budgets are at breaking point and many schools are struggling to recruit and retain staff, much of what has been announced today is not new: the £50 million for grammar school expansion was announced in the 2016 autumn statement and it was already possible to open new voluntary aided schools where need could not be met through the free schools programme.