'All grammar schools should give priority to poor students', Education Secretary set to announce

Camilla Turner
Education Secretary, Justine Greening  - Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.

All grammar schools should give priority to poor students, the Education Secretary Justine Greening will announce today, as she says that educating the brightest children in good schools will help build an "unbeatable Britain" in the wake of Brexit.

Ms Greening will say that helping disadvantaged children get places at top schools will be at the heart of her vision for a "stronger, fairer" country following the UK's split from the European Union.

Speaking at St Mary’s University in Twickenham today, Ms Greening is expected to say that she wants to see more children from "ordinary working families" attend grammar schools, adding that these youngsters will provide the "backbone" to the economy in post-Brexit Britain.

She will say that all grammar schools should prioritise giving places to children from lower income families because selective schools should not just be for the "privileged few".

At a glance | Theresa Mays grammar schools revolution

"We want to see more children from disadvantaged families get into grammars – that’s vital," Ms Greening is expected to say. "I welcome that many grammar schools are now changing their admissions code to give a priority of places to these children – I want all of them to follow this example.

"We certainly will not lose sight of the fact that we want grammars to achieve more for disadvantaged children. But we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that many young people from an ordinary  working class background already attend our existing grammar schools.

"And so, the new schools that we will create will support young people from every background, not the privileged few. Young people on free school meals – and those eligible for pupil premium.

"Young people from ordinary working families that are struggling to get by. I want these new schools to work for everyone. This will be a new model of grammars, truly open to all – we will insist on that.”

Her comments come as the Department for Education launch a new consultation this week which will examine how the education system caters to the needs of "ordinary working families".

The phrase - which has become a favourite Prime Minister Theresa May's after the previous term JAM or "just about managing" fell out of favour - refers to the diligent but cash-strapped voter. It denotes families which are not captured by traditional measures of deprivation but whose household income is below the national average.

Ms Greening will add: “This isn’t about creating brand new labels for our families and our children. It isn’t about singling out some for support – whilst leaving others alone. Because we know families are different, not just materially and financially, but in the way they identify themselves – in their own perceptions.

"But we do want to start to provide a clearer analysis of the situation. Of how the children of ordinary working people are faring in our education system. And for measuring how our wider reforms can do better for these families – and so better for the country.”

Chart: The Premium for living near Outstanding primary schools

New research published this week by the DfE shows that children in grammars schools are as likely to be from ordinary working families as children in non-selective schools. This contradicts earlier research by social mobility campaigners who say that selective schools will favour the wealthy.

Jim Skinner, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association, told The Daily Telegraph that the vast majority of his members will have changed their admissions policies by September 2018 to give some form of priority to disadvantaged students.

He said that changes to many school's admission policies to favour children from poor families have been underway in recent years, but added: "the current focus on social mobility I am sure has encouraged more schools to do so".

"Over 100 of the 163 grammars will be giving some kind of priority [to poor students] and I am sure that many of the others will look to do so over the next year," he said. “Certainly all grammars are all looking to increase the number of disadvantaged youngsters that get into the grammars."

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