New Grammar Schools

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:43 am on 8th September 2016.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education 10:43 am, 8th September 2016

The first thing I would say to the hon. Lady is that we have not yet actually made any policy announcements; they will be made in due course. She has given a commentary on what I guess she presumes the policy announcement will be. I would encourage her to wait. Broadly, we are interested in increasing diversity and meeting parents’ desire for choice in having a school near to them that matches the needs of their child. We also want to see capacity built into the system, in two ways. We want more good schools near to children where they need them. There are too many parts of our country where, in spite of all the reforms we have made and the improvements in attainment that we have seen, there are still children who cannot get good enough access to a good school. We also want to build capacity by having some of our best schools work with other schools in the system to help collectively to raise attainment and standards as a whole. We want to see all parts of our education system, not just the school system but universities as well, playing a stronger, better role.

The hon. Lady asked about evidence. She quoted a report by the IFS that does mention free school meals. However, I must say that I do not understand her argument. She seems to be criticising the status quo while resolutely defending keeping it in place. It was really interesting listening to her, because, in many respects, the words echoed the voices that I heard in my childhood—people having a dogmatic debate about the education system while I studied in my local comprehensive entirely untouched by that ideological debate. What we want to do, and what we think this Parliament and the country should do, is to be prepared to look at the practical ways that we can improve attainment for our children, and to leave no stone unturned to do that.

Complaining about one aspect of our school system and then saying that we should not even have a debate about that element is, frankly, an untenable argument. It is, in essence, politics and dogma coming before pupils and opportunity. It is about Labour Members prioritising, as we can see today, an ideological debate, while Government Members want a debate about the practical steps we can take to tackle generational failure and schools that still are not delivering for children who live near to them. It would be wrong to discount how we can improve prospects for those children, especially the most disadvantaged, purely because of political dogma. If Labour Members are not willing to ask themselves these difficult questions, how can they possibly come up with any of the solutions?

We do believe that selection can play a role, and we think there is evidence to show that it does for many children in grammar schools—but anyhow, we need to leave no stone unturned. We will set out our policies for consultation in due course, and I am sure that hon. Members will want to debate them thoroughly after that.