THE PORTFOLIO holder for education in Thurrock, Cllr James Halden, has made it his personal mission to get a grammar school in the borough. That “dream” may now be a step closer with the news that the prime minister, Theresa May will today (Tuesday) unveils plans for a new generation of grammar schools as she announces that £320 million has been set aside in the Budget to help end the “brutal and unacceptable” truth of selection by income.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister says she has made it her “personal mission” to build “a school system that works for everyone” and will within weeks begin the process of reversing the current ban on new grammars.
The Prime Minister, who has made grammars a key part of her education policy, will fund up to 140 new free schools, many of which are expected to become grammars.
She says: “If we are to give our children and grandchildren a fair chance to succeed in an ever more competitive world, we have to build a future where every child can access a good school place.
“That means decisively shifting Britain’s education system and building a Great Meritocracy so that children from ordinary working families are given the chances their richer contemporaries take for granted.”
The new funding will be confirmed in Wednesday’s Budget, together with what Mrs May describes as “the biggest overhaul of post-16 education in 70 years”, through a multi-billion pound drive to improve technical training with the creation of new technical versions of A-levels.
As well as the £320m for new free schools, the Chancellor has set aside an extra £216 million to rebuild and refurbish existing schools to make them “fit for the 21st century”.
The brutal and unacceptable truth is that for far too many children in ordinary working class families, the chance they have in life is determined by where they live or how much money their parents have
The Government will also pay for free transport for children from poorer families to attend selective schools within 15 miles of where they live. Currently, free transport is only provided for children attending state schools, which Mrs May describes as “a gross inequity”.
Mrs May, who is keen to promote the message that Brexit is not preventing the Government from getting on with domestic reforms, including an overhaul of an education system that currently fails too many children.
The Prime Minister says: “The brutal and unacceptable truth is that for far too many children in ordinary working class families, the chance they have in life is determined by where they live or how much money their parents have.
“It is selection based on house prices and parental income, because when you are working two jobs and struggling to make ends meet, it is no good being told that you can choose a better school for your children by moving to a different area or paying to go private.
“These are not choices you can make – and they are not choices you should have to make. That is why I have made it a personal mission to increase the capacity and diversity of the school system so that there is a good school place that caters to the individual needs and abilities of every single child, whatever their background and wherever they live.”
Mrs May said that a Schools White Paper, to be published within weeks, will contain plans to reverse a ban on new grammar schools that has been in place since 1998.
She says: “It will remove the barriers that prevent more good faith-based free schools from opening, and it will enable the creation of new selective free schools so that the most academically-gifted children get the specialist support to fulfil their potential regardless of their family income or background.”
Universities and private schools will also be encouraged to sponsor new free schools to drive up standards, a policy that Mrs May highlighted yesterday by visiting a specialist maths school in London that was set up as a free school and is supported by King’s College London.
The new free schools will create a total of 70,000 new school places, in addition to the 8.4m state-funded secondary and primary places that currently exist. The extra funding will mean that the Government goes beyond its commitment to open 500 new free schools by September 2020.
Downing Street last night suggested a law change will happen in time for many of the 140 new schools to be set up as grammars.
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, said: “Investing in education and skills is the single most important thing that we can do to equip our children for the future…these announcements take the next steps in giving parents greater choice in finding a good school for their child, whatever their background.”