Grammar schools back on the agenda as Liz Truss becomes PM

New Conservative leader has also backed longer school days and changes to university admissions

New Conservative leader has also backed longer school days and changes to university admissions

grammar schools

Liz Truss will be appointed prime minister after winning the Conservative leadership election, firmly putting the controversial prospect of new grammar schools back on the agenda.

The foreign secretary won the backing of just over 57 per cent of voting Conservative members, beating former chancellor Rishi Sunak. She will replace Boris Johnson tomorrow after visiting the Queen at Balmoral Castle.

A former children’s minister, Truss pledged during the campaign to expand high-performing academies and replace those failing with new free schools and grammars.

Truss also promised a “laser-like focus” on improving maths and literacy standards. She has also said she supports schools opening for “longer hours”, but did not expand on her plans.

But the new prime minister faces an in-tray brimming with more pressing issues facing the education sector and wider country.

Schools, their staff and pupils face a growing cost-of-living crisis, driven by energy price rises which will see bills skyrocket.

Truss has pledged to announce a plan to deal with soaring energy prices within a week, but it is not yet known whether this will include any relief for schools.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT leaders’ union, said it was “vital that any action taken to address inflated household energy prices must also apply to schools”.

Geoff Barton, from the ASCL leadership union, said there were “many pressing issues facing education, but the immediate crisis is the soaring cost of energy bills both for households and for schools and colleges”.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said Truss “inherits a whole set of challenges in need of urgent attention”.

“The cost-of-living crisis affects every citizen, every public service, every business. To survive this period will require significant governmental support and swift action.”

Schools bill headache for new DfE team

Her new education team, expected to be unveiled later this week, will also have to grapple with ongoing problems with the government’s schools reforms.

Ministers promised earlier this year to go back to the drawing board on controversial new academy standards in their flagship schools bill.

The prospect of new selective schools has repeatedly reared its head despite official plans by former prime minister Theresa May to remove the ban being ditched in 2017.

Liz Truss
Education secretary James Cleverly has been tipped for promotion

Evidence suggests while grammars may slightly stretch brighter pupils, they increase inequality overall as the attainment of other pupils suffers.

Truss previously told the Conservative Home website: “My two daughters now attend a grammar school, and I want people around the country to have the choice that we have to be able to send our daughters to a grammar school.”

Truss wants new grammar schools

She said it is “about parents and children having the choice of that range of good schools. And the more good schools we have the more choice people have.”

Any government bid to open new grammar schools would require primary legislation to lift the ban on new selective institutions, which was introduced in 1998.

This presents more of an issue in the House of Lords, where the government does not hold a majority.

Truss said she would aim to get legislation through before the next general election by “making the case to the country that this is the right thing to do, and I will encourage the Lords to support the will of the democratically elected House of Commons”.

Truss could revive uni admissions shake-up

During the campaign, Truss also pledged to guarantee Oxbridge interviews for all A-level students with top A-level grades, although there is some confusion about whether she means As or A* grades.

She also pledged to look at introducing post-qualification admissions, something the government abandoned earlier this year.

The new PM has also spoken of the need for children to have access to mental health support in schools, and for better support for SEND children.

She also said she supported schools “opening for longer hours…to help children get the skills they need but also to make sure they are less prey to potential alternatives”.

The government has already said it expects schools to offer a 32.5 hour week by 2023, but stopped short of mandating a longer day.

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