Grammar get-out clause confirmed: selection ‘permissible’ within trusts

The government has confirmed it has a grammar school get-out clause that allows academy trusts to filter their brightest pupils to another site, effectively creating selective schools and dodging the need for new laws to be passed.

The education green paper introduced by Justine Greening a fortnight ago outlined proposals for multi-academy trusts to move their brightest pupils into a single “centre of excellence” school within their trust, stating the action is already “permissible” under the current system.

In March, Schools Week was told in explicit terms by the Department for Education that schools could not select by ability, and said that if trusts were found to be moving their pupils around on this basis they would be investigated as it would be a breach of the school admissions code.

But the department appears to have abandoned its stance, and said this week that pupils of both low and high ability could be moved between schools in a multi-academy trust.

The disclosure throws open the possibility for existing schools to become grammars and select in the brightest pupils from other schools within their trust.

Becky Allen, director of Education Datalab, speaking at a rally in London last week to oppose grammar schools, said: “I think [the government] could circumvent the need for legislation to go down this route of selection within MATs.”

Several other education professionals have expressed the same concerns, including a senior lawyer and policy experts.

Schools Week has been told that providing pupils remain on the roll of the school they were admitted to, and receive some of their education there, schools could share facilities and teach pupils at another school or site.

The DfE said a school move should not be done without parental consent, but would not confirm what action would be taken if parental consent was not granted.

A spokesperson said all proposals in the green paper consultation would require changes to legislation, but would not confirm if this applied to the “centres of excellence”. The green paper states that it does not.

A legal challenge was brought against the Dean trust earlier this year after it proposed to bus pupils with special educational needs to another of its schools because of limited resources.

However, Schools Week has been told the trust “backed down” after solicitors Simpson Millar found parents had not given their consent.
The 2002 Education Act says that local authority-maintained schools have the power to require children to be educated off site, but there is no equivalent power for academies.

James Betts, education solicitor at Simpson Millar, said: “This means academy trusts cannot insist on any provision being delivered off site, for example, at a different school in the chain, without agreement from parents.

“Any such proposal in the absence of parent consent is likely to be unlawful and challengeable by way of judicial review.”

Any such proposal in the absence of parent consent is likely to be unlawful and challengeable by way of judicial review

But it is likely that parents of pupils selected to enter a “centre of excellence” would consent to their child moving, although this would effectively turn the trust’s remaining schools into secondary moderns.

At the rally, Allen urged teachers in large MATs to tell their bosses they would apply for jobs elsewhere if they introduced such a form of selection.

“The teaching profession can stop this easily – this is how it ends.”

Schools Week has previously revealed multi-academy trust chief executives were uneasy about the potential of selecting within their trusts.

But Sir Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, last week said he might open a selective school if forced to do so.

It also seems trusts may already be shifting around pupils. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a report earlier this month showing how trusts with a 14-19 vocationally focused school were moving lower-attaining pupils into the institutions at higher rates than other schools.

But Betts said shifting pupils “creates a high degree of uncertainty”, highlighting issues over which uniforms pupils should wear.

“Travel between sites during the school day also reduces the time that pupils are actually being educated.”

A DfE spokesperson said that the aim of scrapping the ban on new grammar schools would “provide stretching education for the most academically able, regardless of their background and help to eliminate the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers”.

She added that “there will be strict conditions that grammar schools must make sure they improve the education of pupils in every other part of the system”.

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  1. Although parents whose children are selected to move to a trust’s ‘centre of excellence’ might consent to this, would parents of pupils not selected (the majority) consent for their children to be taught in the non-centres of excellence?
    And shouldn’t the money spent on transport be better spent on what goes on in the classroom?

    • I think this would be an unattractive option for schools because the children, regardless of where taught, would remain on roll at an individual school which would be accountable for their educational outcomes. Also, any tranport arrangements would have to be funded by schools themselves rather than from the local authority’s home to school transport budget so would be a drain on financial resources. I am surprised to hear that they would need consent from parents because there are quite a lot of federations and split site schools moving children already from site to site – as far as I am aware none of them have sought parental permission to do this and I am not sure on what basis it would actually be required from a legal point of view.

    • mr_chas

      This scenario already exists at Crown Woods School in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the school is massively oversubscribed ( selection takes place AFTER the intake is decided ). Granted it was purpose built this way but it has a ‘collegiate’ campus with 3 ‘schools’ ( separate buildings ) one of which is ‘classed’ as a grammar school. I believe there is just one sixth form.

  2. Melissa

    I dislike this idea of high achievers as if it is a tick box activity. What about the talented artist who struggles with maths? What about the gifted maths student that has low levels of literacy? The sports star that has dyslexia? Children are too unique and complex to draw a circle around those that are high ability. We have to get over this notion, then we can see that ideas like this simply have no place in our education system.

  3. Linda Abridge

    I wish people would stop using the emotive words ” secondary modern”.No school now exists that would become one. Sec Mods had no curriculum to speak of, their pupils left at 15 , they did not teach languages and few of their staff were graduates or specialists. When the school leaving ;age was raised to 16 finally in the early 70’s most were either becoming or had already morphed into comprehensives ready to teach CSE and GCE which later became GCSE . There is no way under the present set up that a non grammar school would be anything but a comprehensive. which to-day are called High Schools. Unless of course you think that no school can be called a comprehensive unless it has the top 15 % of high !Q s , in which case it is just a play on words.