Government announces funding to support additional ‘good school places’

The education secretary has announced a new drive to increase the number of ‘good school places’ for families, including £50m for grammar schools

Education secretary Damian Hinds has announced a package of measures developed to create more school places, giving parents greater choice and raising education standards – including in disadvantaged areas. It will include:

  • a new wave of free school applications, building on the 212,000 places created by free schools since 2010;
  • £50m funding to expand the number of places at existing good or outstanding selective schools alongside measures to give more disadvantaged pupils the opportunity to attend these schools;
  • new support for faith schools where there is demand for good school places;
  • fresh agreement with the independent schools sector to help improve outcomes for pupils of all backgrounds.

Wave 13 of free school applications to deliver further innovation and parent choice

This latest applications round will target areas where there is a demand for places and a need to help raise school standards, giving more families access to a good school place. Nearly 400 free schools are open.

More places at good grammar schools and support for disadvantaged pupils

The government is launching the Selective Schools Expansion Fund, with £50m available for 2018 to 2019 so that existing selective schools can expand their premises to create more places. Schools will have to submit a fair access and partnership plan setting out what action they will take to increase admissions of disadvantaged pupils.

Research shows pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds attain better results in selective schools and around 60% of these schools already prioritise these children in their admissions. For example, King Edward VI in Birmingham actively encourage more pupils from less privileged backgrounds to join their schools, including considering 11+ results for disadvantaged pupils separately to their non-disadvantaged counterparts. A memorandum of understanding with the Grammar School Heads’ Association has also been unveiled, outlining its commitment to widen access and work with local schools to raise standards for all children.

However, Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The government cannot point to a single piece of evidence that shows strong educational benefit of this misguided policy. While it may benefit a small minority, it will not close the gap between rich and poor pupils and if anything will increase the divide.

“School budgets are at breaking point. The state-funded school system is rapidly heading towards insolvency. To pursue such an elitist policy as expanding grammars at a time of crisis is a distraction at best. This money should be spent for the benefit of all children, not just the tiny number who attend grammar schools.”

Faith schools to help meet local demand for school places

There are many good or outstanding faith schools and more want to open. The government will retain the 50% cap on faith admissions for free schools but will develop a scheme to help create new voluntary-aided (VA) schools for faith and other providers to meet local demand, supported by capital funding. The VA route already allows for schools to apply to open with up to 100% faith based admissions. The department will work with local authorities to create these schools where they are needed, subject to a 10% contribution from the provider to the capital costs.

To support the measures to promote social cohesion announced in the integrated communities strategy, these schools – as all schools do – will continue to be expected to play an active role in their communities. This could include twinning with other schools and ensuring diversity on the governing board. Examples of schools already doing this include St Joseph’s Catholic Junior School in Leyton, which has a strong record of working with local Muslim, Jewish, Christian and non-faith schools.

Universities and independent schools building partnerships with state schools to raise attainment and widen access

Following the schools that work for everyone consultation, we have established a dedicated unit that works with universities and independent schools to develop and strengthen partnerships with state schools to help raise attainment and aspiration for all pupils. A number of institutions have already come forward to do this including independent and state schools working together to support school improvement. The Department for Education has published a joint understanding with the Independent Schools Council, setting out how it will work in partnership with state schools and, in particular, help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The higher education sector is also supporting these objectives and, in February, the Office for Students set out what is expected of universities with regard to participation and access.

This package of measures builds on the government’s support for the most disadvantaged children and the drive to raise academic standards in poorer areas of the country, including:

  • a plan to improve social mobility, boosting opportunities for all young people;
  • the £72m opportunity areas programme to raise standards and improve outcomes in twelve disadvantaged areas of the country;
  • steps to transform education for children with additional needs;
  • more than £45m awarded to successful multi-academy trusts to help tackle underperformance and improve schools in areas that lack capacity, particularly in disadvantaged areas of the country.
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Grammar School Heads’ Association chief executive Jim Skinner said: “We are very pleased that, like other good and outstanding schools, selective schools now have access to a fund to allow them to expand their premises. This is particularly important at a time when there are increasing numbers of pupils reaching secondary age and such high demand from parents for selective school places.

“We look forward to working with the Department for Education through the memorandum of understanding, to continue and further extend the work that member schools have undertaken in recent years, to increase access for disadvantaged pupils and to support other schools to raise standards for all children.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “As the government supports the expansion of existing grammar schools, it is right to insist that they do more to improve access and to increase the numbers of disadvantaged pupils. Our research has shown how socially selective grammars are: you are ten times more likely to go to one if you went to a prep school than if you are on free school meals.

“Existing grammars should be expected to do more to support social mobility. We welcome the commitment by the grammar school heads to prioritise pupil premium pupils and improve outreach. However, all grammars should ensure that disadvantaged pupils who reach the minimum test score are admitted by right – as happens at some Birmingham grammars.

“We welcome the decision to maintain the 50% rule for faith schools: it is important that successful faith schools are not socially selective by virtue of overly restrictive admissions policies.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Education in our country is facing real problems – mental health issues for our children, a growing teacher recruitment and retention crisis, and huge funding cuts. This Government seems to have no idea how to tackle these problems and is simply recycling its same old failed policies.

“The grammar school corpse has climbed out of its coffin once again despite evidence of the damage that selective education causes. Once prior attainment and pupil background is taken into account, research shows there is no overall attainment impact of grammar schools, either positive or negative. (1) Furthermore, the attainment of grammar school pupils comes at the expense of those who don’t pass their 11-plus, with pupil attainment at secondary moderns in areas with a selective education system lower than that of their counterparts in comprehensive schools. (2)   Selective education systems are also linked with greater inequality in social outcomes later in life. (3)

“In the face of such overwhelming evidence, it therefore beggars belief that the Government has announced it will plough £50 million to expand the number of places at existing selective grammar schools.  Schools up and down the country are desperately short of funds. This is money that would be better invested in ensuring all schools could provide for the basic needs of their pupils without having to ask for money from parents.

“Expanding the number of unaccountable free schools will not solve the school place shortage. Instead, Government must return powers and funding to local authorities to enable them to plan and manage school places in a rational and cost-effective way. Schools must be accountable to communities, this is the only way we can avoid the academic and governance failures and school closures that have characterised the free schools programme to date.

“The retention of the 50% cap on faith admissions to free schools is welcome. While some parents may welcome the expansion of voluntary-aided faith schools, the Government should not confine plans to open new schools to this route. Many communities need new schools to cope with rising demand and taxpayer funded capital funding should be available to meet local need across the board. Local authorities are best placed to consult communities and determine the appropriate provision in their area.

“The experience of universities and independent schools working with the state sector to raise attainment has not been a positive one to date. This is another ideologically-driven initiative that lacks an evidence base to support it. The funding for this new ‘dedicated unit’ to promote such partnerships should be diverted instead to state schools which are crying out for the funding they need to educate their pupils and students.”

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