The Government’s former pledge to reintroduce grammar schools and scrap the 50% cap on faith based admissions at faith schools seems to be back on the agenda, as Justine Greening was replaced by Damian Hinds as Secretary of State for Education. Ms Greening was the first Conservative Education Secretary to be educated at a comprehensive school. She was known to be personally against the Government’s grammar school plans and blocked the lifting of the faith schools admissions cap, giving her backing to an Ofsted report which argued that such moves would lead to deep-seated segregation.
Hinds attended a Catholic grammar school, and has given his support to Theresa May’s grammar school programme in the past calling for “at least one unashamedly academically elite state school in each county or major conurbation.”
In addition, Hinds called on the Government to scrap the faith school admissions cap in 2014 during a House of Commons debate noting that the cap was “inhibiting the creation of new quality schools.”
The Conservatives promised in its 2017 manifesto that it would repeal the cap but has so far failed to proceed with such a move. The Catholic Church has refused to open new schools while the cap is in place, arguing that the cap forces them to circumvent Canon law and turn away Catholics because they are Catholic. Since Hinds’ appointment, the Department for Education has indicated faith schools will expand saying “faith schools are more likely to be rated outstanding by Ofsted than non-faith schools.”
Legally, although new grammar schools cannot open, existing grammars could expand or open new schools as annexes, provided they are geographically close to their core school. Some grammar schools have taken advantage of this opportunity, with recent BBC research showing that the number of pupils enrolling in grammar schools across England has increased by seven percent since 2010.
The major question is whether the new Education Secretary will have time to deliver such major reforms with school funding and tuition fees already consuming considerable amounts of departmental time and resources, not to mention continuing questions over teach recruitment and retention, and workforce morale.