Rishi Sunak urged to bring back grammar schools in Tory manifesto

Mr Zahawi is speaking and gesticulating
Mr Zahawi, a former education secretary and chancellor, is standing down as an MP - Julian Simmonds for The Telegraph

Rishi Sunak is being urged to include the return of grammar schools in the Tory manifesto as senior figures in his party argued it would be “wrong” to keep the ban.

Nadhim Zahawi, a former education secretary who is standing down as an MP at the election on July 4, led calls for the Prime Minister to lift the current ban on new free schools being selective.

Mr Sunak said “yes” when asked whether he supported the return of grammar schools at a hustings event in the 2022 Tory leadership campaign, insisting on the need to “reform the [education] system to get better outcomes”.

But his team later clarified that his comment had been about expanding existing institutions.

He later decided to keep the ban on new grammar schools once in office, to the disappointment of Tory backbenchers.

Selective education has become a major election issue as a result of Labour’s flagship pledge to introduce VAT on independent school fees.

Private school exodus?

Sir Keir Starmer’s plan to add the 20 per cent tax has prompted fears of an exodus of private school pupils that could overwhelm the state sector, with Mr Sunak accusing the Labour leader of stoking a “class war”.

Mr Zahawi told The Telegraph: “Greater choice in the school system is a key tool in helping parents to give their children the best possible start in life, whether it’s the excellent academies and free schools that have flourished under the Conservatives, or the wonderful benefits to those children who can go to a grammar school.

“It is wrong to keep a ban on something that so many parents want for purely ideological reasons, just as it is so dreadful that Labour want to attack our private schools, again based on Left-wing ideology and not on what’s best for children.

“We should recognise grammar schools as a potent tool for social mobility and allow them to compete in the thriving ecosystem that has been such a success during the last 14 years of Conservative government.”

Dame Andrea Jenkyns

Mr Zahawi’s calls were backed by Dame Andrea Jenkyns, who served as an education minister under Boris Johnson.

Dame Andrea said: “I definitely think we should include grammar schools. I think we need to push that the Conservatives are the party of choice in education, especially if Labour’s going to do this VAT hike on private schools.”

The hopes of pro-grammar Conservative MPs had been raised by Liz Truss pledging to lift the ban, which was introduced by New Labour but has now remained on the statute books under five Tory prime ministers.

Jonathan Gullis, currently a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, was a vocal advocate of bringing back grammar schools as a backbench MP .

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, has also campaigned for their return in the past and famously quit Lord Cameron’s government over the issue.

Attended by 175,000 pupils

There are currently 163 grammar schools, half of which are in London or the south-east of the country.

It is currently against the law to open new grammars, but schools that already exist can expand and are attended by more than 175,000 pupils.

This has led to calls for more to be set up throughout the United Kingdom to boost the levelling up agenda.

During the 2022 Tory leadership contest, Mr Sunak’s deputy chief of staff carried out widespread polling on the issue as the then director of Onward, a centre-Right think tank.

Will Tanner worked with JL Partners on a survey of more than 4,000 people that found most voters wanted grammar schools to be expanded.

The research also showed 60 per cent of adults would send their child to a grammar, and that 2019 Tory voters were more than twice as likely to support the expansion of the system than Labour supporters.

Mr Tanner is believed to be one of the key figures in Downing Street writing the Conservative manifesto, and Onward published plans for a Great British National Service, an idea since adopted by the Prime Minister, last year.