The Conservative Party has confirmed plans to lift the ban on new grammar schools in its manifesto, a move which will guarantee the policy will go ahead if they win the election.
The document also confirms several other proposals from the ‘Schools That Work for Everyone’ consultation last year, including a condition for universities which charge the highest fees to set up free schools and sponsor academies.
At least 100 independent schools will become involved in academy sponsorship or founding free schools as a result of work with the Independent Schools Council, the Tories say.
Theresa May’s commitment on grammar schools was widely expected to be included in the manifesto, given the fierce divide over the policy within the Conservative Party.
The proposal was not included in the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto, which meant that MPs and Lords in the last parliament were not obliged to support it.
However, if May wins the election on June 8, grammar-sceptic MPs will have to vote to lift the ban, and the House of Lords will not be able to block it.
The Conservatives say the lifting of the ban will be subject to certain conditions, such as “allowing pupils to join at other ages as well as eleven”.
100 private schools to sponsor academies
The private school plans have been cautiously welcomed.
Barnaby Lenon, Independent Schools Council chairman, said private schools are already involved in partnerships with state schools, adding others with the capacity to do so “will be willing to increase support”.
But he warned: “It is important to remember that ours is a sector of 1,300 mostly small schools with limited capability in this area.”
He said the greatest benefit can be achieved by working together in a “spirit of voluntarism”.
There are also concerns over whether private schools can boost standards by sponsoring state schools.
Schools Week revealed last month that half of the academies currently sponsored by grammars were rated as requires improvement or inadequate by Ofsted.
The Conservatives also pledged to “make it a condition” for universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees to sponsor academies and found free schools.
But a spokesperson for the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading universities, said they believe “ensuring universities maintain the freedom to decide how they work best with schools is the optimal way to ensure the students are supported to succeed”.
The manifesto also seemingly confirms plans to lift the cap on faith-based admissions which, it states, “prevent the establishment of new Roman Catholic schools”.
Instead faith schools will have to prove that parents of other faiths, and none, would be prepared to send their children to that school.