The Government should scrap the 11-plus test to determine which children go to grammar schools – or force all pupils to take it – if it wants to improve social mobility, according to one of the Department for Education’s main champions for new schools.
Toby Young, the director of the New Schools Network (NSN), which plays a key role in delivering free schools and grammars, said the decision for which children go to grammar schools could be handed over to primary headteachers. Simply letting existing selective schools replicate themselves as they are will do nothing to improve social mobility, he added.
Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Mr Young said he believed “no more than five” grammar schools would open by the end of the current Government.
Asked if that was five schools too many, he said: “Wearing my NSN hat, no comment.” But made clear his personal view was that there was “no strong case for opening new grammars in areas already served by good state comprehensives”.
While school groups will be encouraged to open the selective schools in disadvantaged areas, Mr Young said “there may be one or two exceptions”, and did not rule out the possibility of grammars opening in affluent areas of the country.
His comments follow an announcement in the spring Budget on Wednesday that a further £320m is to be set aside for the opening of around 140 new free schools – some of which will be grammars – should the Government get the green light to lift the current ban on their expansion.
Defending the plans, Prime Minister Theresa May has argued that grammar schools can improve the prospects of children from poorer backgrounds and their expansion will help end the current “selection by stealth” system within state comprehensive schools.
The move comes amid fierce resistance from campaigners, however, and follows the publication of a number of scathing reports detailing both the financial and potential social costs of free schools, which are independent of local authority.
Grammar schools in particular have been contested by social mobility groups such as the Sutton Trust, which insists the enforced segregation of children of different abilities only widens the gap between rich and poor pupils.