New Education Secretary Justine Greening has said she’s “open-minded” to Tory calls for new grammar schools but suggests the “old-fashioned” debate needs to be moved forward.
Greening, the first Education Secretary to go to a state school, told BBC One’s Andrew Marr show that she was open to the idea of selective schools, including free schools, but wasn’t going to make any decisions right away.
“I’m not going to make some big, sweeping policy pronouncements, I’m going to take a measured, sensible approach in this role,” she said.
Campaigners in favour of grammar schools were given fresh hope when it was suggested that new Prime Minister Theresa May – herself an advocate of grammar schools – was planning to repeal the current ban on the creation of new grammar schools – a law which was brought in by Tony Blair in 1998.
Grammar schools select pupils based on their academic ability through the 11-plus exam. There are currently 163 state grammar schools in England.
Mrs May – who went to a grammar school herself – has, in the past, expressed support for parents who want more places in academically selective schools, and recently backed a grammar school expansion in her Berkshire constituency of Maidenhead.
It is believed that a number of key players in Mrs May’s inner circle are in favour of the lifting of the ban. In particular, Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s new Joint Chief of Staff at Downing Street, is said to be very supportive and has been described as “absolutely pro-grammar”. It’s thought he will be instrumental in any decision.
The new Prime Minister has also used the recent Cabinet reshuffle to appoint a number of other high profile pro-grammar school figureheads, including Boris Johnson and David Davis; disposing of several members of David Cameron’s Cabinet who were in favour of comprehensive education.
On Saturday night, senior Tory back bencher Graham Brady, who chairs the party’s 1922 Committee and resigned from Mr Cameron’s front bench in 2007 after the Tory leader refused to support new grammar schools, said: “In 1998 the Labour Party legislated to ban any new grammar schools, even if local parents and the community wanted them. I am very hopeful of early action from Theresa May’s new Government to repeal this silly prohibition.”
However, it’s likely that any proposals will be strongly opposed by many teachers and parents. Melissa Benn, a member of campaign group Comprehensive Future, said: “We have experienced the Cameron Government’s ambivalence on this issue, and I fear that it will continue and intensify under Theresa May.”