Children from families who earn less than £33,000 should be given priority in grammar schools, as the Government seeks to define “ordinary working families” for the first time.
The Education Secretary said on Thursday that a new wave of selective schools will target children from families on modest incomes who tend to live outside inner cities, including in suburbs and coastal areas.
The group will include children who come from families earning below the median income level but who do not qualify for free school meals. Data from the Department for Education shows around one in three children fall into this category.
Justine Greening refused to rule out lowering entry requirements or introducing quotas to increase the number of students from disadvantaged families attending grammars.
“We can see that disadvantaged children are less likely to [attend grammar schools] and we do want to see that addressed,” she said, adding: “We are not ruling anything in or out per se”.
She said that “ordinary working families” are the “backbone” of the British economy, and should be able to send their children to the best schools in the country.
The phrase has become a favourite Prime Minister Theresa May's after the previous term JAM or "just about managing" fell out of favour with Whitehall officials because it was seen as patronising.
Now the Department for Education has now begun a consultation which seeks to define the term “ordinary working family” and examine whether to adopt it as an official Government term.
Ms Greening said the consultation will give her department “real insight” into a group of children that are “often not looked at as closely in terms of their education outcomes as we do more naturally and generally for disadvantaged children”.
The consultation document, states that such a family with two parents and two teenage children would have an unadjusted household income of around £33,000.
For a lone parent family with one young child, it would denote an unadjusted household income of around £17,000.
Speaking at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, west London, Ms Greening said that when she was a child there was “no real choice at all” for schools and that she had to “get what [she] was given”.
She recalled how she “screamed with delight” when she received her A-level results, which meant she would become the first in her family to go to university. Her family then celebrated by going to the pub.
Ms Greening said 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".
“When I was growing up, there was a phrase I often heard: “make do”. I absolutely hated that,” she said.
“Well, this is a government that believes that everyday ordinary working families shouldn’t have to “make do”. We believe they deserve better than that.”
Angela Rayner, Labour's shadow education secretary, told the BBC this morning that the Conservatives had "cooked the books" and could not "hide from the fact that grammar schools do not aid social mobility".
She said: "In effect they've not been able to find the evidence to back up their ideological policy, so they've created some themselves."
Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission said it “remains unclear” how the new generation of grammar schools will be more socially representative.
He said that the focus on grammars is “at best, a distraction” and at worst risk undermining efforts to overcome unfairness in the education system.
The Government’s White Paper titled Schools That Work For Everyone, which will set out a blueprint for the new generation of grammar schools, is expected in the coming weeks.