Academy chains are considering opening new grammar schools for disadvantaged children in a bid to improve social mobility, it can be revealed.
The Inspiration Trust, an influential multi-academy chain, has confirmed it has held talks with the Department for Education about opening a selective school for disadvantaged students in the future.
The selective school, which would be targeted at disadvantaged pupils who receive additional funding, including those on free school meals, would be established in Norwich, an area listed as part of the Government’s multi-pronged ‘opportunity’ strategy.
The 12 areas in England earmarked for education reform will receive a share of a £72m social mobility fund, which the Government hopes will remove the current barriers preventing disadvantaged children from accessing higher education and skilled employment.
According to a recent newsletter published by the Grammar School Heads’ Association, the proposals discussed for Norwich could be expanded to include other areas including Bradford, Derby, East Cambridgeshire, Hasting and Stoke-on-Trent.
The newsletter adds that these areas are “clearly priorities for new selective schools”, but adds that concrete plans are yet to be drawn up.
Dame Rachel de Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, said the chain was actively exploring a number of plans.
“We shouldn’t shy away from exploring bold ideas. Would a pupil premium grammar school help improve social mobility in Norwich?”
“Norwich has always been a radical city, so we shouldn’t rule out doing something new,” she told TES.
The proposals come less than four months after the Education Secretary Justine Greening launched the new opportunity strategy in the city, during which she said it was up to local communities to decide whether they wanted new grammar schools to be opened.
Should the plans receive backing from the Department for Education, it will likely be seen as a green light to other academy trust in areas of the country where there is high demand for the reintroduction of grammar schools.
It comes days after the Social Mobility Commissioned warned that the performance of poor, intelligent pupils is rapidly declining in state schools, with many being overtaken by their affluent, less capable peers by the time they sit their GCSE exams.
In Norwich, research published last year shows that children eligible for free school meals in the city are the worst performing demographic in England, with just over 20 percent gaining five A*-C grades at GCSE.
Nationally, pupils qualifying for free school meals significantly underachieve compared to their peers.
Commenting on the proposals, a spokesman for the Department for Education said that grammar schools already had a proven track record of allowing “children from disadvantaged backgrounds to thrive”.
“The Government is targeting social mobility ‘coldspots’ with twelve ‘Opportunity Areas’ where we are working with local organisations, schools, colleges, and businesses to overcome barriers to social mobility and make sure young people from all backgrounds can go as far as their talents will take them,” he added.
“This, together along with our proposals to harness the expertise of our universities, independent and faith schools will create more good schools places across the country.”