Prime Minister Theresa May’s move to allow new grammar schools hits snag as several senior Tory MPs besides Labour and the Liberal Democrats oppose the move
“The prime minister has been clear that we need to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. Every child should be allowed to rise as far as their talents will take them and birth should never be a barrier. Policies on education will be set out in due course,” a statement from Downing Street said.
Meanwhile, Tory backbench MP Mark Pritchard said that any move to bring back academic selection in the state school system would not have “political legitimacy” because the policy was not included in the Tory manifesto at the last general election.
In an interview with Radio 4, Mr Pritchard said he will oppose any change in Government policy on grammars before the next election, due in 2020.
“I don’t think there’s any political legitimacy for the policy and I doubt there would be enough support within the parliamentary party in the Commons,” he said.
“It would be a significant shift in Conservative education policy and personally, I’d have to see the detail of any Bill, and I suspect it would have to be a Bill in a new Queen’s Speech. It wasn’t in the party manifesto, it therefore lacks political legitimacy, and I doubt it would have the support of the parliamentary party. That said, grammar schools should be allowed to expand.”
Meanwhile, Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, said there would be a concerted cross-party effort to block the plans in both parliamentary chambers.
“I am happy to work with people on all sides, from modernising Conservatives to the opposition parties, to block this retrograde plan,” he told The Guardian.
“The government’s majority is tiny – Theresa May needs to see the danger signs. I am committed to making sure this issue is Theresa May’s first U-turn as prime minister.
“Grammar schools segregate children. By 11, when children typically sit the test for grammar schools, only three quarters of the poorest children reach the government’s expected level of attainment in education, compared to 97% of the wealthiest kids.”
The suggestion that May, a former grammar school pupil, will opt for new selective schools after an 18-year ban delighted many Conservative backbenchers. More than 100 Tory MPs are said to support a campaign by Conservative Voice, a group endorsed by senior cabinet ministers Liam Fox and David Davis in 2012.
However, critics of grammar schools immediately rejected the idea that they encourage social mobility, with the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, accusing the prime minister of “harking back to a mythical ‘golden age’”, The Guardian reported.
“Selection belongs in the dustbin of history and has no place in modern society. There must be no going back,” she said.
A number of senior Tories have also told the Guardian there would be substantial resistance among modernising Conservatives to any attempt to return to a full-on selective school system that divides children at the age of 11.
The prime minister has a lead over Labour in opinion polls but commands a majority of just 12 in the House of Commons, while she has no Conservative majority in the House of Lords.