Writing in the Times Red Box, Minister Nick Gibb outlines the support the Department has received for our faith and grammar school proposals.
Last week marked an important moment in this Government’s drive to give more children the opportunity of a great education, regardless of their birth or background.
The Director of Fair Access, the person responsible for ensuring more people from lower income backgrounds can gain a place at university, set out his expectation that universities do more to improve the academic achievement at school of such children. Professor Les Ebdon said that ‘one of the key ways universities can make a real difference is to ensure that they are working hand-in-hand with schools to make sure that aspirations and attainment can be raised in our disadvantaged communities.’ This will help deliver a key part of our education proposals, that more universities help improve the school system, including sponsoring local schools, setting up new free schools and ensuring more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are better prepared for entry to this country’s world-leading universities.
But this is not the only area where there has been real and welcome progress. We want to scrap the ineffective rule that prevents the creation of more faith schools, schools which are so popular with parents. The Director of the Catholic Education Service, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Archbishop of Canterbury have all responded positively to our proposal to expand the number of high-quality faith schools. Parental demand for good faith schools has, for too long, been stifled by ineffective regulation preventing faith groups from opening more schools.
Numerous headteachers and other education figures have also said they want to set up new grammar schools. As confirmed in the Autumn Statement, the government has already made provision for £50 million of new capital funding to support the expansion of existing grammar schools in each year from 2017-18. The demand is there.
We’ve also seen education experts from think tanks such as the Centre for Social Justice and Res Publica welcome our proposals to expand selective education, widening opportunity for more pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to benefit from a grammar school education. Phillip Blond, the director of Res Publica, said recently that ‘reintroducing grammar schools is potentially a transformative idea for working-class areas’. And Res Publica's report concluded that grammar schools in such areas ‘would boost opportunities for bright, disadvantaged youngsters and kick-start stagnant levels of social mobility.’
We need to make these improvements quickly. There are still more than 1 million children in schools that Ofsted rate as not good enough and in 65 local authorities, fewer than half of children starting secondary school in 2015 had a good or outstanding school place within 3 miles of their home.
A huge amount has been achieved so far, and we are looking forward to setting out the next stage of our proposals. The government has dramatically reformed and improved England’s education system. We will not ease up on our quest to build on that work, and ensure this country’s education system works for all.