Rishi Sunak abandons plan for new grammar schools despite campaign pledge

Rishi Sunak - Tolga Akmen/Shutterstock
Rishi Sunak - Tolga Akmen/Shutterstock

Rishi Sunak has abandoned plans to expand grammar schools that were being drawn up by Liz Truss.

The Government has no plans to open new grammar schools, the House of Lords heard on Friday.

Baroness Barran, a minister in the Department for Education, said: “The Department’s priority is to concentrate on ensuring that as many children as possible, whatever their ability, have access to an outstanding education, rather than creating more grammar schools.”

During the Conservative leadership election campaign, Sunak said he supported the expansion of existing grammar schools, while Ms Truss said she would lift the ban on new grammar schools.

Kit Malthouse, the former education secretary, had been asked to draw up plans for new grammar schools in England when Ms Truss was prime minister.

Baroness Barran said the Government supports existing grammar schools because it wants to allow parents to have a diverse choice of good schools and recognises that they are “experts in stretching the most able pupils”.

She said: “While we have no plans to open new grammar schools, neither do we believe that existing and excellent schools that have historically been selective for a very long time, should be forced to remove their selection arrangements and become comprehensives.”

The minister was speaking during a second reading of the School Reform of Pupil Selection Bill, a private member’s bill introduced by Labour peer Baroness Christine Blower, which asks secondary schools in England to phase out admission tests.

Creation outlawed in 1998

There are currently 163 grammar schools in England. The creation of new selective schools was outlawed in 1998.

However, two-thirds of Tory voters are supportive of grammar schools and almost half agree that more should be built, according to a poll by the think tank Onward earlier this year.

The debate on grammar schools comes after a cross-party campaign to abolish the 11 plus was launched this week.

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, said the 11 plus “keeps opportunity in the hands of people who already have the most opportunity and it stacks the odds against those who in many ways have the least, who have the hardest lives”.

Steve Mastin, of the Conservative Education Association, claimed that grammar schools are “unconservative”. He said: “Because parents do not choose to send their child to a grammar school, the school chooses which children get in and which children the school rejects. And for me that is a fundamentally unconservative principle.”

Baroness Barran said that the majority of grammar schools now prioritise pupils eligible for free school meals. However, she said she would “urge all good schools including our existing grammar schools to do more to increase the number of disadvantaged pupils” and ensure “they do act as real drivers of social mobility”.