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Recent policy developments: Grammar schools in England

Published Wednesday, July 5, 2017

This Commons Library briefing paper provides an outline of the current position relating to grammar schools and proposed Government reforms. It covers England only. The paper also outlines recent support and opposition to the establishment of new grammar schools, and research on their impact.

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Previous Government proposals to allow the opening of new grammar schools in England - prohibition to remain in place

It is currently unlawful to open entirely new grammar schools in England.

On 6 August 2016, the Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister planned to end this ban and on 9 September 2016 this was confirmed. The Government says it plans to give the ‘green light’ to the expansion of existing grammars, and allow existing non-selective schools to become selective in certain circumstances.

The Government would consult on proposals:

  • Requiring new or expanding grammars to take a proportion of pupils from lower income households, so that selective education is not reserved for those with the means to move into a catchment area or pay for tuition to pass the test; or
  • Requiring them to establish a new, high quality, non-selective free school. Requiring them to set up or sponsor a primary feeder school in an area with a high density of lower income households; or
  • Requiring them to sponsor a currently underperforming non-selective academy.

The consultation, Schools that work for everyone, was subsequently published on 12 September 2016.  The consultation closed on 12 December 2016.

The Conservative manifesto for the 2017 General Election stated that the party intended to lift the ban on new selective schools, subject to conditions.  

Following the loss of the Conservative majority at the election, the proposals did not appear in the Queen’s Speech in June 2017, and the Government subsequently confirmed that the ban on new grammar schools would remain in place.

Autumn Statement 2016: Funding for grammar school expansion

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 23 November 2016 included £50m in funding for the expansion of existing grammar schools, each year from 2017-18 to 2020-21.

Spring Budget 2017: Funding for selective free schools and free school transport for low-income grammar pupils

On 7 March 2017, the Prime Minister published an article indicating that, in the coming weeks, the Government would publish a schools white paper which would, alongside other measures, “enable the creation of new selective free schools.”

On 8 March 2017, the Spring Budget confirmed that the Government would extend the free schools programme with the investment of £320 million during the current Parliament to help fund up to 140 new free schools, which would include selective schools among others.

The Budget also included plans to expand free school transport for children attending selective schools who are on free school meals or whose parents receive the maximum Working Tax Credit, if the child is aged 11 to 16 and the school is 2 to 15 miles away.

Weald of Kent Grammar School

Existing grammar schools are currently permitted to expand, including on to new sites, and there have been several recent proposals for these kinds of expansions.   In December 2013, two proposals for the establishment of a satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks, one submitted by Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge and the other by Invicta Grammar School in Maidstone, were rejected by the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

In the case of the Weald of Kent Grammar School, it was reported that this was because the annex school was planned to be co-educational, whereas the parent school was single-sex.

In a written ministerial statement on 15 October 2015 the then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, announced that she had approved a revised proposal from the Weald of Kent Grammar School to expand onto a satellite site in Sevenoaks, several miles from the original school site.

On 19 October 2015, Nicky Morgan made an oral statement further setting out some of the reasoning behind her decision.

Selection of pupils by ability

Grammar schools select all or most of their pupils based on examination of their academic ability, usually at age 11.

Grammar schools, and schools that have had unchanged partially selective admissions arrangements in place since the 1997-98 school year, are permitted to continue to select pupils on the basis of their academic ability.

A maintained school may select on the basis of aptitude if:

  • it used such selection in 1997-98 and has continued to use it since then without significant changes
  • it selects up to 10% of its intake on the basis of aptitude in its specialist area(s), provided that the admission arrangements do not involve any test of ability or any test designed to elicit the pupil’s aptitude for other subjects

Selection by ability is prohibited for all other local authority maintained schools, other than for banding and selection to sixth forms.

Converter academies that were previously designated as grammar schools or had partially selective arrangements when in the local authority maintained sector can continue to be selective.

Apart from for these exceptions, under the Academies Act 2010 all academies must provide for children of different abilities (i.e. be ‘comprehensive’).

This means that selective independent schools wishing to become free schools will not be able to select by ability as free schools.

Expanding existing grammar schools

The general restriction on selection by ability for state funded schools means that no new grammar schools may be created.

It is possible, however, for existing grammar schools to expand.

Changes to the School Admissions Code made in 2012, and retained in the updated December 2014 version, made it easier for schools, including grammar schools, to expand their numbers.

One of the changes enabled schools to increase their Published Admission Number (PAN) without the need for consultation.

The admissions code applies to academies and free schools as well as local authority maintained schools.

Expanding a school’s premises and additional sites

Under January 2014 regulations, governing bodies of all maintained schools can enlarge the school premises without the need for a statutory process in some circumstances.

This applies to grammar schools as to other local authority maintained schools.

Before making any changes, governing bodies must ensure that a number of criteria are fulfilled, including that the admissions authority is content for the published admissions number (PAN) to be changed where this forms part of expansion plans.

Expansions that do not require a physical enlargement to the premises of the school are not covered by the regulations. Such an increase in pupil numbers may be achieved solely by increasing the PAN in line with the School Admissions Code.

Community, foundation and voluntary schools

In the case of community, foundation and voluntary schools, local authorities can also propose that a school’s premises be enlarged by following a streamlined statutory process set out in regulations.

Academies

Academies wishing to enlarge their premises need to seek approval from the Secretary of State, through the Education Funding Agency (EFA). They are generally not required to submit a formal business case to the EFA unless the expansion is very large scale or takes pupil numbers over 2,000.

Expanding onto an additional site

Those proposing the expansion of an existing local authority maintained school onto an additional site “need to ensure that the new provision is genuinely a change to an existing school and not a new school”.

Similarly, information on the stages of the statutory process states that the expansion of an existing academy onto a satellite state “will only be approved if it is a genuine continuance of the same school.”

The same criteria are listed as being used by the Secretary of State when deciding whether to approve the expansion of academy schools onto satellite sites.

Ending selective admission arrangements

Sections 104 to 109 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 make provision for parental ballots to determine whether particular grammar schools or groups of grammar schools should retain their selective admission arrangements.

A ballot can only be held if at least 20% of eligible parents have signed a petition requesting such a ballot. The detailed arrangements for the ballot are set out in regulations.

Governing bodies of local authority maintained grammar schools may also propose ending the selective admission arrangements at a grammar school by following a statutory process. Information on the stages of the statutory process is provided in Department for Education guidance.

Academies

Provisions allowing governing bodies of maintained grammar schools to propose removing selection, and provisions relating to parental ballots, do not apply to academies.

Selective schools that convert to academy status are required to remain subject to the same provisions for removing selection as they were subject to as a maintained school, through their funding agreements.

Discussion relating to grammar schools

Further information about the support and opposition of grammar schools can be found in the associated PDF.

  • Support for new grammar schools 
  • Opposition to new grammar schools 
  • Grammar schools and disadvantaged pupils 
  • Education Committee 'evidence check' report on grammar schools
  • Westminster Hall debate on grammar school funding 

A brief history of grammar schools

Further information about the evolution of grammar schools since 1944 can be found in the associated PDF.

  • The Education Act 1944
  • 1960s and 1970s
  • The Conservative Governments 1979-1997 
  • The Labour Governments 1997-2010 

Further information

Publication details

Commons Briefing papers SN07070

Authors: David Foster; Robert Long; Nerys Roberts

Topic: Schools

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