ASCL: Funding pressures force grammar schools to consider expansion

Funding pressures are forcing grammar school headteachers to consider increasing their pupil numbers to reach “economies of scale”, the Association of School and College Leaders has warned.

The union’s leaders told a press conference on the first day of their annual conference that although they had not felt a “huge appetite” from members who lead selective schools for expansion, some heads are likely to consider admitting more pupils to get more money for their schools.

Although plans to lift the ban on new grammar schools in England are unlikely to resurface, Damian Hinds, the new education secretary, has expressed his desire to see existing selective schools expand.

There are what I would call pragmatic decisions being made by grammar school heads

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, said today that although the union had talked “constructively” with Hinds, it had had “no conversation” about grammar school expansion, and felt it would be a “fairly peripheral issue” compared to teacher workload and school funding.

However, selective schools face financial pressures, and therefore “there might be a pragmatism in them wanting to be able to expand”, Barton said.

Schools Week reported earlier this year that this expansion is already happening in some parts of the country, and the Grammar School Heads Association has said that expanded selective schools could be ready to take extra pupils by 2020.

Malcolm Trobe, the union’s deputy general secretary, said grammar schools were particularly affected by “abysmally low” funding levels for 16 to 18-year-old pupils, which they educate in “significant numbers”.

This might prompt schools to consider “economies of scale”, said Trobe, who said relatively small grammar schools are “looking to put an extra class in each year group, provided they’ve got the space”.

“There are what I would call pragmatic decisions being made by grammar school heads,” he said.

Despite the pressures on grammar schools to expand, and Hinds’s appetite for the sector’s growth, ASCL’s leaders are not expecting the education secretary to mention selection. To do so would risk a repeat of last year, when his predecessor Justine Greening was heckled by delgates for mentioning the government’s plans to open new grammar schools.

“I don’t think we’re going to hear about grammar schools. I don’t think it’s high up the priority list,” said Barton, who warned that attempts to expand grammar schools, even by ASCL’s members, would not have the union’s support if they risk damaging other schools and making pupils disadvantaged.

“As an association, we represent grammar schools,” he said. “We think those grammar schools do a good job, but we do worry about the idea of expanding grammar schools in that area if what it’s going to do is to disadvantage some other youngsters and make life more difficult for those schools already under financial pressure.

“I don’t think we’re talking about something where there’s a massive campaign by parents that they want to see lots more selection, and I’m hoping that what we’ll see tomorrow is a secretary of state who wants a legacy to be about the really important stuff that helps every child of every background, which is essentially about quality of teachers in the classroom”