Boris Johnson has been urged to bring back grammar schools under a new campaign by Tory MPs to “level up” education.
The MPs – led by Jonathan Gullis, a former teacher – are demanding that the Prime Minister lifts the current ban on new free schools being selective, to enable grammar education to spread out of its strongholds in London and the south-east of England.
Mr Gullis, MP for Stoke on Trent, said wealthy areas of the country have a monopoly on selective education, denying its benefits to children in more disadvantaged areas. Half of the country’s 163 grammar schools are in the south-east or London.
He said this had been “codified” in a white paper by Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, which had only committed to “protecting” grammar schools, rather than expanding them.
Some 200 Tory MPs – more than half the parliamentary party – are thought likely to back such a demand, according to grammar school campaigners. They said it was “absurd” for a Conservative government to continue Labour’s ban on new grammar schools, 12 years after it was introduced.
Among those supporting the change in the law are Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee. The MPs have suggested the Government could introduce it as part of a new education bill expected in the Queen’s Speech later this month.
Education is a ‘postcode lottery’
Mr Gullis, a teacher for 10 years before becoming an MP, said: “I have seen first-hand the detrimental effects that lack of opportunity and choice have on ambitious students.
“Education is currently the very definition of a postcode lottery. Protecting existing grammar schools without creating new ones is reinforcing this. Evidence of this is that 60 per cent of grammar schools are in just 11 local education authorities (LEAs), out of 152 LEAs in total.
“We cannot and must not continue with this geographic sweepstake approach to education. Pupils should be able to stay local and to go far, to coin a phrase.
“Why should parents in the south-east and places like Stratford-upon-Avon have a varied choice of how best to educate their child, but not parents in Stoke-on-Trent? If a child from Stratford-upon-Avon has access to a grammar school education, then it’s only right a child in the ‘red wall’ does too.
“With the launch of the 55 new Education Investment Areas [EIAs], we have an opportunity to end this education postcode lottery.
“I am calling on the Secretary of State for Education to remove the ban on new selective free schools. In doing so, we can level up the country by offering students in the most deprived constituencies the same choice in education as the least deprived. This is levelling up in action.”
Labour’s ban on new grammar schools ‘should be scrapped’
Sir Graham said grammar schools drove social mobility for families unable to afford more academic private schools. “It is absurd that after 12 years of Conservative-led governments, we still have Labour’s ban on new grammar schools in place,” he said. “This should be scrapped without delay.
“Doing so would open the door to innovative proposals such as that coming from Jonathan Gullis to create opportunities in places where academic attainment is low.
“It would also allow existing selective areas to maintain the same level of selection when the population increases without having to jump through unnecessary hoops.”
Grammars can open new selective “satellite” schools under their brand name but this has only been achieved once in Kent, because of the complexity and bureaucracy.
Mr Zahawi is known to be a supporter of grammar schools, with three in his constituency. He has pledged to extend their “DNA” across the education system, through allowing them to retain their selective status when they join multi academy trusts.
Boris Johnson is also said to be “pro-grammar” schools as a “great mobiliser and liberator for many people”. As mayor of London, he said: “The fee paying sector is the one sector where academic selection is legally possible, and we should have a look at that. It shouldn’t be taboo.”