The Prime Minister’s plan to reintroduce grammar schools is “weird” and could have a detrimental effect on the economy, former education secretary Nicky Morgan has claimed.
Confirmation of Theresa May's plan to lift a ban on new grammars and calls for the expansion of selective schools was met with strong criticism this week, including backlash from the prime minister's own party members.
Ms Morgan led criticism of the plans in saying the Ms May's policy would reduce social mobility and disadvantage children from poorer backgrounds.
Her comments reveal the scale of internal debate among the party and follow news that new Education Secretary Justine Greening is also believed to be resisting the policy.
Speaking to The Times, Ms Morgan said that the opening of more grammar schools would lead to resources being diverted from struggling areas and could hamper efforts to boost the economy by improving skills.
In a clear warning to the prime minister, who attended a grammar school, Ms Morgan said: “Politicians have to be really, really careful about not making policy on the basis of our own personal experiences.”
The Conservative MP, who was sacked from her position as Education Secretary upon the new Prime Minister’s appointment, could not say “hand on heart” that she would vote for the plans and claimed that it was “touch and go” whether the Ms May would get the education bill through the Commons.
She said that she did not remember contributions from Ms May on education when the subject was previously discussed in cabinet, the paper reported.
Theresa May used Brexit-led uncertainties as part of her justification to lift the ban on the new selective schools on Friday.
The Prime Minister suggested the vote to leave the EU was triggered by a “profound sense of frustration” at a number of issues - including parents being unable to get their children into good schools.
In response to the announcement, Ms Morgan said in a public post that she “welcomed” any move to encourage “greater collaboration” across the Education sector, and that the Prime Minister was “absolutely right to place creating a more meritocratic society at the heart of her agenda for Government”.
“However,” she said, “an increase in pupil segregation on the basis of academic selection would be at best a distraction from crucial reforms to raise standards and narrow the attainment gap and at worse risk actively undermining six years of progressive education reform”.
Critics of the selective school system argue the schools will do nothing to increase social mobility, since tough admission tests will be dominated by children from wealthier, supportive families with the money for private tutors.
Ms Morgan, who attended an independent school, later said: “Far from actually having the One Nation education policy based on meritocracy, which is what they are talking about, actually we are going to have a more unequal education system.
“The evidence for the overall benefits to social mobility, nobody has been able to find.”
She added: “It’s very weird. The whole thing is a very strange battle to take on. [Theresa May] used the ‘privileged few’ language again, it is clearly designed to signal a break with the previous Cameron government.”
The MP’s criticisms have been echoed by other senior Conservative Party members, including Sir Desmond Swayne, a former parliamentary aide to Mr Cameron, prominent backbencher Sarah Woollaston and Neil Carmichael, chairman of the education select committee.
Labour has pledged to fight the grammar school plans “every step of the way”, while the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron predicted the “out-of-date, ineffective approach” would be defeated in the House of Lords.
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