The Church of England has rejected the Government’s plans to create hundreds of new grammar schools as it claims it will build schools for “the many, not just the few”.
The Church, the largest single provider of schools in England, has ruled out the creation of any new grammars on the grounds that they cater only to a select group of “high achievers”.
Responsible for more than 4,700 schools across the country, the announcement follows a decision taken at the General Synod last year, which concluded that the Church should move away from selection towards schools that serve the “whole community”.
As part of its new vision, the Church said it would proceed with plans to create 125 new, more inclusive schools, which it hopes will help remedy an “increasingly fragmented educational scene”.
The stance represents a break with more than 200 years of tradition, with the Church originally presiding over the creation of many of the grammar schools established during the 19th century.
It follows efforts by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, to move the Church away from quotas and faith-based entry tests, which he has claimed are “not necessary” for the purposes of creating a “really good school”.
The Archbishop, an alumnus of Eton College, has also previously stated his belief that there are many “unbelievably brilliant schools” that are “entirely open” and achieve “staggeringly good results” due to the strong leadership of headteachers.
The decision will come as a blow to Theresa May, the daughter of an Anglican vicar, who last year announced plans to build hundreds of new selective schools across England.
Announcing the plans in September last year, Mrs May said that new grammars would narrow the attainment gap and increase choice in a “diverse school system” - a move that now appears to clash with the views of church leaders.
Dismissing the plans outright, the Church said yesterday that the decision had been taken on a “theological basis”, adding that all children should be treated as though they are “equally important”.
Nigel Genders, the Church’s chief education officer, said that it had been “very clear” on its position, adding that its focus was on children of all backgrounds, “irrespective of whether they’ve got high academic ability or not”.
A spokeswoman added: "Our vision for education is for the whole community. All of us are made in the likeness of God, so everyone is equally important.
"We are partners with the Government in education. But we have our priority, which is to provide schools where there isn’t currently enough education for the children in the area.
"We will carry on doing what is right and resonant with us, according to our Government that is the General Synod."
However, the decision has been criticised by some Conservative MPs, who claimed that the Church had overlooked the role that new grammars would play in improving social mobility and raising children’s attainment.
Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, said: “If the Church of England doesn’t want to run grammar schools, so be it. But evidence shows that for children from a disadvantaged backgrounds it’s the best route to helping them realise their aspirations and expectations.
“Grammar schools are there as a springboard for everyone to fulfil their potential - isn’t that what education is about?”
Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, added that whilst the Church of England should be free to pursue its own agenda, the Government should not be dissuaded from its pursuing its policy on new grammars.
“By contrast, the Government should offer the kinds of schools that parents want, and which will extend opportunities to children more widely,” he added.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We highly value the Church of England’s commitment to running excellent schools across the country, the majority of which are rated as good or outstanding.
“We also know that selective education can have a positive impact on pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. That’s why our consultation on creating more good school places in more parts of the country includes proposals to scrap the ban on new grammar schools – on the strict condition they improve the education of other pupils in the system – as well as harnessing the expertise and resources of our universities, and our independent and faith schools.
“We are carefully considering responses to the consultation and will respond in due course.”