Boris Johnson has been urged to bring back grammar schools as part of a new campaign by Tory MPs to ‘better’ education.
MPs – led by Jonathan Gullis, a former teacher – are demanding the Prime Minister lift the current ban on the selectivity of new free schools, to allow grammar teaching to spread out of his strongholds in London and across the south east of England.
Mr Gullis, MP for Stoke on Trent, said wealthy parts of the country have a monopoly on selective education, denying its benefits to children in the most deprived areas. Half of the country’s 163 high schools are in the South East or London.
He said it was ‘codified’ in a white paper by Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, who only pledged to ‘protect’ high schools, rather than expand them.
Some 200 Tory MPs – more than half of the parliamentary party – are likely to back such a demand, according to high school campaigners. They said it was “absurd” for a Conservative government to maintain Labor’s ban on new high schools, 12 years after it was introduced.
Among those backing the change to the law are Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Conservative backbench committee. MPs have suggested the government could introduce it as part of a new education expected in the Queen’s Speech later this month.
Education is a “postcode lottery”
Mr Gullis, a teacher for 10 years before becoming an MP, said: ‘I have seen firsthand the detrimental effects that a lack of opportunity and choice has on ambitious students.
“Education is currently the very definition of a postcode lottery. Protecting existing high schools without creating new ones reinforces this situation. Proof of this is that 60% of high schools are in just 11 local education authorities (LEA), out of a total of 152 LEAs.
“We cannot and must not continue with this geographic approach to education. Students must be able to stay local and go far, to invent a sentence.
“Why should parents in the South East and places like Stratford-upon-Avon have a wide choice of how best to educate their child, but parents in Stoke-on-Trent should not? If a child in Stratford-upon-Avon has access to a high school education, then it’s only fitting that a child in the ‘red wall’ does too.
“With the launch of the 55 new education investment areas [EIAs]we have the opportunity to end this educational postcode lottery.
“I ask the Secretary of State for Education to lift the ban on new selective free schools. In doing so, we can improve the country by providing students in the most disadvantaged constituencies with the same choice of education as the less disadvantaged. This is leveling in action.
Labour’s ban on new high schools ‘should be scrapped’
Sir Graham said grammar schools boost social mobility for families unable to afford more university private schools. ‘It is absurd that after 12 years of Tory-led governments we still have the Labor ban on new high schools in place,’ he said. “This should be removed without delay.
“It would open the door to innovative proposals such as that of Jonathan Gullis to create opportunities in places where the educational level is low.
“It would also allow existing selective areas to maintain the same level of selection as the population grows without having to jump through unnecessary hoops.”
Grammars can open new selective ‘satellite’ schools under their brand, but this has only been done once in Kent, due to complexity and bureaucracy.
Mr Zahawi is known to be a supporter of high schools, with three in his constituency. He is committed to extending their ‘DNA’ through the education system, allowing them to retain their selective status when joining multi-academy trusts.
Boris Johnson is also seen as a schools ‘program’ as a ‘great mobilizer and liberator for many people’. As Mayor of London, he said: “The fee-paying sector is the only sector where academic selection is legally possible, and we should take a look at that. It shouldn’t be taboo.