David Davis: New grammar schools should give pupils three chances to pass entrance exams

'Tests over three consecutive years would make you get this right,' the former Conservative party leadership contender says

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A new wave of grammar schools should give children three chances at passing their entrance exams, the Tory grandee calling for the end of the ban on selective state schools has told The Independent Online.

David Davis, the former Conservative party leadership contender, has argued for a repeal of legislation brought in under Labour 17 years ago, which outlawed the establishment of any new wholly or partially selective state schools.  He is backed by a swathe of senior Conservatives, including London mayor Boris Johnson, defence secretary Liam Fox and Graham Brady, the chair of the party’s influential 1922 committee.

Educated at a grammar school in south London, Mr Davis believes that selective education is vital to help clever children from impoverished backgrounds make the most of their abilities and improve their fortunes in later life. At present, there are only 164 grammar schools in England.

Mr Davis concedes that there were flaws in the original grammar school systems, when children would typically sit an 11-Plus, or occasionally, 12-Plus, exam between the ages of 10 and 12. A major concern has been that some academically gifted young pupils fail due to one-off nerves, unfairly stripping them of the opportunity of top notch schooling.

The solution, says Mr Davis, could be to have an entrance exam every year for three years, while  education experts should explore alternative options to just a one-off test to make sure the right children are selected.

“Tests over three consecutive years would make you get this right,” said Mr Davis, who is 66. “When I was at grammar school a million years ago before the Tyrannosaurus Rex was around, there were governors’ places in case people flaked out.

“Grammar schools used to be a driver of social mobility, but that’s not really the case anymore, because there are too few of them. Social mobility has got worse over the past three Governments, probably four going back to Margaret Thatcher.”

Prime minister David Cameron backed the expansion of grammar schools earlier this month. Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, is currently deciding whether to approve a request from Weald of Kent grammar school in Tonbridge’s request to open a campus in Sevenoaks.

This would be the biggest expansion of a grammar school in half-a-century and should be legal under the 1998 legislation. The plan has the support of the local MP, defence secretary Michael Fallon.

A similar plan for an ‘annexe’ of one of Kent’s existing grammar schools was blocked by Ms Morgan’s predecessor, Michael Gove, in 2013. This was considered an illegal attempt to create a whole new grammar school.

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