The Government’s Green Paper on grammar schools arrived last week to a flurry of media activity.
But the case being made by the Prime Minister and Education Secretary is crystal clear – selection already exists and it is by house price.
It is time to make sure that schools are genuine engines of social mobility, giving all children, including the poorest, the best life chances.
When Theresa May announced her plans for grammar schools at the British Academy last week she made this problem very clear: “For too long we have tolerated a system that contains an arbitrary rule preventing selective schools from being established – sacrificing children’s potential because of dogma and ideology. The truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and its selection by house price, selection by wealth. That is simply unfair.”
The existing extent of the housing premium on good schools is stark. Averages and estimates vary from tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds, but some of the best figures are from research carried out by Lloyds Bank in 2012.
It found that house prices in the postal districts of the top 30 state schools in England – defined as those secondary schools that achieved the best GCSE results in 2011 – were on average £33,631 (12%) higher than the neighbouring locations in their county.
The postal districts of six of the 30 top state schools commanded a house price premium of over £100,000 compared to their surrounding locations. And homes in the postal district of the Henrietta Barnett School in North London had the largest premium with homes trading at a premium of 91% (£394,282) to the average house price in neighbouring areas.
The Prime Minister has made it very clear that this is not a return to the 1950s and the secondary modern and presented a plan that looks quite different from the grammar schools of the past.
Not only does the Green Paper lay out new rules and restrictions on how and by whom grammar schools can be set up, but it also proposes new concurrent and complimentary measures on independent schools, faith schools and universities.
For example, the Prime Minister has stressed that grammar schools must serve families who are only just coping: “If you’re eligible for free school meals, and your parents earn less than £16,000 a year, then there is extra help on offer.”
But at the same time private schools wishing to retain their status will need to either sponsor an academy or free school, or offer a substantially higher number of bursaries. And universities who want to charge higher fees will be required to establish a new school or sponsor an existing underperforming school
The Government understand there is no silver bullet to raising standards in education. But alongside faith schools, free schools, independent schools, academies, University Technical Colleges and others, this new vision of selective schools is another weapon in the armoury.
We recognise there is no one-size fits all approach to education and as much as possible it is important to cater to the needs of each student.
To this end we want to see better school readiness support, the Pupil Premium to reach those who need it most, more support from the best head teachers and improved transitions between education and work.
All children no matter their background, should have access to an education that will see them fulfil their potential. The extension of grammar schools has the potential to make sure more children leave school ready for the next steps in life and able to enter meaningful employment.