It looks as though Britain’s first new grammar school in 50 years will get the go-ahead. Education secretary Nicky Morgan has said that she is “open to being convinced” ahead of her decision on the foundation of a satellite school in Kent next month. Her support would be welcomed by a number of Conservative backbenchers, who have been campaigning to bring back grammar schools, arguing that they aid social mobility.
The Weald of Kent grammar school, based in Tonbridge, Kent, had plans for a satellite school in Sevenoaks turned down by Morgan’s predecessor Michael Gove last year because it failed to meet red tape requirements. Nearly half of its 1,200 pupils travel in from Sevenoaks, seven miles away. The school has already secured planning permission for the site and has raised funds of £16 million for the project.
The law currently prohibits new schools being opened, but changes introduced by the Coalition government allow schools to expand. Chairman of governors David Bower said “We believe Weald of Kent is ideally placed to establish an annexe. We are confident we can embrace students and staff across a split site operation to feel part of a single community.” He indicated that the annexe would offer 90 new places per year group.
The Conservative grassroots group Conservative Voice has launched a campaign calling for a change in the law to allow new grammar schools to be created. Archie Macleod, communications director for Conservative Voice said: “For many people grammar schools are a beacon of social mobility, giving bright children the opportunity to get more out of their time in education.
“It is no secret that your socioeconomic background can affect the quality of education you receive as a child. Grammar schools are seen by many as a way of levelling the playing field, giving children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to receive the otherwise unobtainable standard of public school education.”
A recent poll by YouGov for the Times found that 38 percent of people wanted to see new grammar schools established, against 26 percent who wanted the government to stop schools selecting by ability and opening up grammar schools to all pupils. 17 percent were undecided.
The poll also found that 54 percent of people would support the opening of a new grammar school in an area where there was public demand for such a school, and that 66 percent of parents would get their children to sit the entrance exam for grammar schools. 65 percent of parents would take up a place offered on the basis of a successful exam result.
Meanwhile, Nicky Morgan has indicated that she believes immigration is a good thing, because having children from a variety of ethnicities in a classroom drives up standards. Speaking to the Observer, Morgan said: “I’m not one of those people who thinks that immigration is always a bad thing. The evidence from London suggests that a rich ethnic mix can help to drive up standards. It’s clear that many migrant families really support their children and appreciate the transforming power of education.”
She also disagreed with Michael Gove’s use of the term “the blob” to describe the obstructive education establishment, saying that it “didn’t help”.