The Weald of Kent school in Tonbridge, England will build an ‘annexe’ new grammar school in Sevenoaks, Kent after Education Secretary Nicky Morgan gave the green light. The school, which is not considered a separate grammar school establishment, but rather an annexe of the existing school, is expected to welcome its first 450 students by 2017. It is the first new grammar school to be approved in 50 years.
Opening new grammar schools have been banned since 1997, and the Education Minister says the Kent grammar school case should not be construed as a ban lift, nor should it make other schools hopeful they can get their proposals approved. Explaining her decision, Morgan said it was a natural expansion, the Daily Mail reports, and that the decision shouldn’t be thought of as government approval of selective schools.
Several proposals for grammar schools have been rejected in the past largely in view of bureaucracy, the UK Telegraph reports.
Proposals for new grammar schools are prohibited by law and they can only be considered when they “meet the criteria for being a genuine expansion” — in other words, when there’s sufficient demand for new school places, Morgan said.
“I don’t want to fight the battles of selective and non-selective… This is one particular application with one particular set of circumstances. Why would I deny a good school the right to expand?”
“I don’t think this will open any kind of precedent or floodgates,” the Education Minister added.
The Labour party characterized the decision as a “backward step”. The party banned the introduction of more grammar schools in the late 1990’s on the grounds that academic selection shouldn’t determine students’ educational opportunities.
Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said the decision makes equal access to education difficult for students:
”David Cameron should look at the clear evidence on grammar schools: They do not increase equality of opportunity, they make it worse.”
The Weald and Sevenoaks sites will be under one leadership and management while governance, curriculum and admission processes will also be centrally administered.
Grammar schools in England are run by the state and choose their students through the 11-plus examination, an exam students take at the age of 11 and which determines the top students qualified to attend. The rest attend a standard secondary school.
The system is highly controversial in view of its discrimination against students with less-than-excellent academic abilities. Hannah Richardson of the BBC says of the grammar school concept:
“[T]he system effectively divided students into two types – those destined for university and better jobs, and those deemed more suitable for less celebrated professions.”
Currently there are 164 state-run grammar schools in England. Citing the pros and cons of grammar schools, The Week says in a balanced analysis of the news that they help the brightest children thrive.
Grammar schools proponent Boris Johnson, London Mayor and an MP, says the ban of selective schools is a ‘tragedy’ considering how they have helped children from poorer backgrounds access quality education. He characterizes a grammar school as “a great mobilizer and liberator,” TheWeek says.
Another oft-cited advantage of grammar schools is the sheer number of successful alumni these schools boast and the fact that grammar school students excel at national exams.
On the other hand, Grammar schools can discriminate against less able students at a young age, which critics say is something that places hurdles in front of the aspirations and social mobility of students, The Week writes.