Grammar schools look to open 'annexes' that campaigners claim to be 'back-door' selection

'It is disappointing to hear that Damian Hinds is keen to expand school places in grammar schools'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 20 February 2018 20:22 GMT
Grammar schools are interested in setting up similar annexes to the one in Sevenoaks
Grammar schools are interested in setting up similar annexes to the one in Sevenoaks (PA)

A number of grammar schools are planning to expand by opening satellite sites in what campaigners have claimed is a “backdoor route” to selection amid the current ban on new schools.

The Conservatives’ plan to change the law to allow new grammar schools to open was scrapped following the general election – but selective schools are still allowed to expand or open annexes.

And a new freedom of information (FoI) request has revealed that three grammar schools have contacted the Department for Education (DfE) about building an annexe on a separate site to their school.

The revelations follow comments from the recently appointed Education Secretary Damian Hinds, who said in his first interview on Sunday that he wanted existing grammar schools to be able to expand.

Last year, the Weald of Kent Grammar School opened a controversial annexe in Sevenoaks – 10 miles from its original site – after ministers ruled it to be an expansion of the same school.

Since its launch in autumn, no other grammar school annexes have opened. But a recent FoI request to the DfE, submitted by campaign group Comprehensive Future, has revealed three existing grammar schools have enquired in the past year about opening similar satellite grammar schools.

Melissa Benn, chair of campaign group Comprehensive Future, said: “The opening of annexes is clearly a backdoor route to new grammar schools and all about avoiding existing laws.

“We know that expanding selection changes the education landscape of communities and creates more of a secondary modern effect in surrounding schools. The Government should listen to evidence and build good new schools that work for everyone.”

Currently no detailed plans have been confirmed for the £200m fund for expanding grammar schools – which was supposed to be available from 2017-18 – despite being announced in last year’s Autumn Statement.

But the comments by Mr Hinds, a former Catholic boys’ grammar school pupil, in support of expanding existing selective schools have been taken as a signal that the funding – which has still not been used – could soon be released.

Jim Skinner, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads’ Association, told The Independent that he was “hopeful” that Mr Hinds’s support could unlock the money and allow existing schools to expand by 2020.

He said: “Where there is parental needs, grammar schools should be able to expand. It’s right and proper.”

When asked whether there were any new annexes in the pipeline, Mr Skinner said: “Schools are going to keep things close to their chest because of the lack of clarity over funding.”

“It is disappointing to hear that Damian Hinds is keen to expand ‘good school places’ for the few, while reducing the educational chances of the many. It’s hard not to despair at politicians returning over and over again to failed policies,” Ms Benn added.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to ensure every child has a good school place and grammar schools are part of that offer to parents.

“We continue to support the expansion of all good and outstanding schools where additional places are needed, including good and outstanding selective schools.”

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