Grammar schools: Minister hopes to ‘persuade’ Conservative rebels

The full details of Theresa May’s plan for new grammar schools will be “very persuasive” for Conservative opponents of the policy, the schools minister Nick Gibb has claimed.

Gibb told the ResearchED conference in north London this morning that the green paper consultation document outlining the details of the reforms would be released on Monday.

School leaders are still waiting to find out more about the the reforms, which were unveiled in a speech by the prime minister yesterday. She wants to see existing grammars expand and new selective schools created, but with improved access for disadvantaged pupils.

Several high-profile Conservative MPs, including the former education secretary Nicky Morgan, have voiced their opposition to the proposal, but Gibb said he felt the conditions that would be applied to grammar schools wanting to expand or schools wanting to adopt selection would be “very persuasive”.

“We are going to publish the details of the consultation on Monday and my view is that once people see the details of what is being proposed, that we will be able to persuade colleagues that this is a very important element of our education reforms, is building on our education reforms over the last six years,” he said.

“In many ways we can only do this because there has been the improvement in education across the board in this country since 2010.”

Morgan’s intervention yesterday, in which she claimed that the introduction of more selective schools could risk the progress made by Conservative-led governments in school improvement since 2010, came as a blow for the prime minister, who has claimed grammar schools will help create a “true meritocracy”.

Gibb told the conference this morning that the government wanted to look at the reasons why poorer pupils weren’t getting in to existing grammar schools after he was quizzed on figures which show that the average proportion of free school meals pupils in grammars is 3 per cent, compared to 18 per cent in the areas they serve.

“What I’ve seen from the evidence is that bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds do better in grammar schools,” he said. “We’ve got to ask ourselves, as some of the research has done, why is it that those [disadvantaged] children aren’t getting into those grammar schools.

“There are a whole raft of reasons, and one of them is that primary schools from which they come are not entering them. Some of the evidence says that parents are not entering those children into applying for those schools. Some of it’s about prior attainment.

“That’s why there will be conditions attached to any grammar school which wants to expand and to any free school or academy who wants to use selection in their admissions criteria.”

Addressing fears about a return to the grammar school-secondary modern divide, Gibb said we were “not in that world anymore”.

He said: “The policy that was announced yesterday that is going to be in a green paper consultation document published on Monday, that is all about increasing diversity, and allowing schools to select by ability if they wish to, but it’s not going back to the binary system where if you fail the 11-plus you go to a non-academic school.”

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  1. What evidence is there that ‘disadvantaged’ pupils do better in grammars? Only 164 of England’s 3,381 state secondary schools are selective. They also take very few ‘disadvantaged’ pupils. The sample would be too small to say definitely that these pupils do better in selective schools.
    Perhaps Gibb is referring to the gap between the achievement of disadvantaged and advantaged children at grammars. It is low – non-existent in many cases. But this is only to be expected. Disadvantaged pupils in grammars have been hand-picked for their ability to keep up with advantaged pupils.

  2. The ‘very persuasive’ evidence is against selection not for it. The OECD and others have found early selection increases the effect of socio-economic background. And greater school ‘choice’ is linked to greater segregation.
    At the evidence is against selection, it appears Gibb’s ‘very persuasive’ argument will include arm-twisting.