Grammar schools: David Cameron gives support to new expansion plan

PM: "I strongly support the right of schools to expand. That’s very important"

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The Independent Online

The creation of the first British grammar school for more than 50 years looks increasingly likely to go ahead after David Cameron voiced his “strong support” for the expansion of those that performed well.

In comments likely to play well with core Conservative supporters, the Prime Minister said it was “very important” that grammar schools with a good track record were allowed to grow and take in more pupils.

He also hinted that he supported attempts by a grammar school in Kent to open a new campus nine miles away. Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge has already won planning permission for the creation of an “annexe” in Sevenoaks.

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, is expected to decide imminently on the application, which if approved could pave the way for more grammars to open similar satellite campuses.

Speaking after a speech on welfare in Brighton, Mr Cameron said: “I strongly support the right of all good schools to expand. I think that’s very important and that should include grammar schools. Under this Government, grammar schools have been able to expand and that is all to the good.”

Although the law forbids the opening of new grammar schools, changes made by the Coalition allow for the enlargement of existing ones. Earlier bids for an annexe on the Sevenoaks site were turned down, but the latest is understood to meet the legal requirements.

Asked specifically whether he backed the Weald of Kent expansion, the Prime Minister said he did not want to “pre-empt” Ms Morgan’s decision. But he added: “The principle is very clear: good schools should have the freedom to expand.”

He continued: “Look what we’ve done with our schooling system in this country. We’ve made much more independence for schools within the state sector. There is huge growth in academies that have more control over their admissions, more control over their finances, more control over their futures and it has helped good schools to expand.”

He added that “in the end” he wanted all children in the UK to have the same education as that enjoyed by his own children, who attend a state primary school in London. “It shouldn’t be a lottery, it shouldn’t be a postcode matter, it should be something everyone gets, the right to have a good school place for your children,” he said.

“The only way you can do that is to have more good schools and that’s exactly what this Government’s programme has been all about.”

Mr Cameron has come under pressure from right-wing Tory MPs to support the expansion of grammar schools, which is also a Ukip policy.

However, the National Union of Teachers has described the debate around grammar schools as “yet another unnecessary distraction”, describing the practice of academic selection at the ages of 10 and 11 as “simply wrong”.