Green light for gram­mar ex­pan­sion

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary starts se­lec­tive school ‘revo­lu­tion’ with £50m fund to cre­ate thou­sands of ex­tra places

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gor­don Rayner Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

GRAM­MAR schools will be able to cre­ate thou­sands of ex­tra places to “close the gap” be­tween wealth­ier and poorer chil­dren in the big­gest ex­pan­sion of se­lec­tive ed­u­ca­tion in a gen­er­a­tion.

Damian Hinds, the Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary, to­day an­nounces a £50mil­lion Se­lec­tive Schools Ex­pan­sion Fund which forms the bedrock of Theresa May’s trimmed-down gram­mar revo­lu­tion. The money will be avail­able to ex­ist­ing gram­mars on the con­di­tion that they can prove they will take in more chil­dren from lower in­come back­grounds.

It is the first slice of a £200mil­lion fund which could re­sult in 16,000 ex­tra gram­mar places be­ing cre­ated over the next four years.

Mr Hinds told The Daily Tele­graph schools would be al­lowed to set a lower pass mark for dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren tak­ing en­trance ex­ams but in­sisted it did not amount to “dumb­ing down”.

Mrs May promised a gram­mar school revo­lu­tion be­fore last year’s gen­eral elec­tion and made a man­i­festo com­mit­ment to over­turn the ban on new gram­mars be­ing built. She dropped the pledge when she lost her par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity at the elec­tion, but is de­ter­mined to make se­lec­tive ed­u­ca­tion avail­able to as many chil­dren as pos­si­ble.

The £50mil­lion in fund­ing will en­able gram­mars to cre­ate up to 4,000 ex­tra places, and will also be avail­able for new free schools and new vol­un­tary aided schools.

Mr Hinds said it would be up to the gram­mars how they en­sured that more poorer chil­dren were ac­cepted, but con­firmed that low­er­ing pass marks for those chil­dren was one op­tion.

In an in­ter­view, he said it was a “case of say­ing to schools, ‘what can you do in your lo­cal area to widen the net and make sure as many chil­dren as pos­si­ble who can re­ally ben­e­fit from that ed­u­ca­tion are able to do so’”.

Asked if that amounted to dumb­ing down, he said: “No, be­cause schools are look­ing for po­ten­tial.” He said that uni­ver­si­ties of­ten ad­mit­ted stu­dents on the ba­sis of po­ten­tial rather than pure exam re­sults, and “that doesn’t mean that they are low­er­ing their stan­dards in the slight­est”.

He added: “It’s a ques­tion of more chil­dren from more back­grounds hav­ing a chance to ac­cess that ed­u­ca­tion where we know that progress can be very good for kids from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds and the gap in per­for­mance can close faster as a re­sult.”

There will be no quo­tas for pupils from lower in­come house­holds, but the Gov­ern­ment has signed a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with the Gram­mar School Heads’ As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents 150 of the 163 ex­ist­ing gram­mars. It re­quires heads to pro­vide more places for poorer chil­dren and en­ter into part­ner­ships with lo­cal schools to raise stan­dards across the board.

Asked how he would de­fine suc­cess, Mr Hinds said: “On a sim­ple level I’d like to see more chil­dren who are el­i­gi­ble for free school meals and pupil pre­mium fund­ing go­ing to gram­mar schools.” The money was set aside for se­lec­tive schools in the 2016 au­tumn Bud­get and is ex­pected to be the first of four an­nual in­vest­ments in new school places.

If the max­i­mum pos­si­ble num­ber of places were cre­ated over each of the next four years it would mean 16,000 ex­tra pupils ben­e­fit­ing from se­lec­tive ed­u­ca­tion. Mr Hinds said he would not be lift­ing the cap on free schools ad­mit­ting a max­i­mum of 50 per cent of pupils based on their re­li­gion, de­spite a man­i­festo prom­ise to con­sider scrap­ping it. How­ever, in what will be seen as an olive branch to the reli­gious lobby, some of the money will be made avail­able to build new vol­un­tary aided (VA) schools, which are are usu­ally part­funded by Chris­tian or other faith groups. Un­like free schools, VA schools are al­lowed to give pref­er­ence to chil­dren based on their re­li­gion if places are over­sub­scribed, with no cap in place.

There are 3,298 VA schools, of which all but 52 are faith schools, but only a hand­ful have been built in re­cent years. A new wave of VA schools would en­able faith groups to in­crease the num­ber of pupils ad­mit­ted on the ba­sis of their re­li­gion.

Damian Hinds’s name does not appear on his of­fice door, which sim­ply reads Sec­re­tary of State. It’s an un­in­tended re­minder that he is the sev­enth ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary in the past eight years.

His two im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors, Jus­tine Green­ing and Nicky Mor­gan, quit the Cab­i­net be­cause of dif­fer­ences with Theresa May over her ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy, par­tic­u­larly gram­mar schools.

As the prod­uct of a gram­mar school ed­u­ca­tion him­self, Hinds is en­tirely in step with the Prime Min­is­ter’s pet project to in­crease gram­mar places, sug­gest­ing he should out­last the two-year av­er­age of re­cent times.

But the job he was given in Jan­uary comes with the “very heavy” bur­den of be­ing in charge of the coun­try’s fu­ture, and Hinds is not about to take any­thing for granted.

“What keeps me awake at night,” he says, “is the knowl­edge that what we do here can have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on what hap­pens in the class­room, for the fu­ture of our na­tion, for the pros­per­ity of the next gen­er­a­tion and for the good of our so­ci­ety. That’s a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

The big­gest chal­lenge of all, he says, is rev­ers­ing the staffing cri­sis in the teach­ing pro­fes­sion that has seen a 29 per cent drop in ap­pli­ca­tions for teacher train­ing cour­ses over the past year and eight in 10 teach­ers say­ing they have con­sid­ered leav­ing the pro­fes­sion.

Part of the so­lu­tion, he says, is to in­crease flex­i­ble work­ing for teach­ers to en­cour­age them to stay in the pro­fes­sion longer, rather than retiring early be­cause they no longer want to work full-time.

“Across so­ci­ety there is a ques­tion about how to en­able peo­ple to stay and work longer,” he says. “Quite a lot of peo­ple will leave work be­fore their pen­sion age … peo­ple can have car­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties later in life, they can have grand­parental re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and so hav­ing flex­i­ble op­tions can be im­por­tant for older peo­ple just as it can for younger par­ents re­turn­ing to teach­ing af­ter time away rais­ing a fam­ily.

“This is a peo­ple busi­ness and great schools are all about great teach­ers, so con­stantly we are think­ing about re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion.”

He has no doubt that work­load is the main prob­lem in re­tain­ing staff.

“Teach­ers say to me when I ask them that mark­ing, data and plan­ning are the three big driv­ers of work­load. I want to work with teach­ers, heads, the unions, every­body, to bear down on that.”

Teach­ing con­stantly throws up fresh chal­lenges, such as the prob­lem of chil­dren spend­ing more and more time on smart phones dur­ing school hours, play­ing highly ad­dic­tive com­puter games such as Fort­nite, the lat­est on­line craze.

Hinds says he can­not “pre­scribe blan­ket rules” such as play­ground bans on cer­tain games be­cause crazes come and go so quickly, but makes it clear that par­ents are ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for solv­ing the prob­lem.

“Par­ents play a huge part and there is a fa­cil­ity of­ten on con­soles to limit screen time and there is no sub­sti­tute for be­ing in­volved in that way,” he says.

Hinds, now 48, was ed­u­cated at Ox­ford Univer­sity (he beat Ja­cob Rees-mogg, his Trin­ity Col­lege con­tem­po­rary, to the pres­i­dency of the Ox­ford Union de­bat­ing so­ci­ety), which is once again un­der fire for fail­ing to at­tract enough stu­dents from dis­ad­van­taged and mi­nor­ity eth­nic back­grounds.

A re­port ear­lier this week sug­gested that Ox­ford and Cam­bridge should build new col­leges specif­i­cally aimed at poorer stu­dents and those from un­der-rep­re­sented groups, some­thing Hinds broadly sup­ports.

He said: “I want more peo­ple from di­verse back­grounds to be able to go to top uni­ver­si­ties, those two and oth­ers. Ox­ford and Cam­bridge are both large uni­ver­si­ties and they are both cities and have large con­straints on land and real es­tate, but I want to see full di­ver­sity and for in­di­vid­ual uni­ver­si­ties if that means po­ten­tially ex­pand­ing them, then that’s some­thing that an in­di­vid­ual univer­sity has to look at.”

The is­sue of univer­sity vice chan­cel­lors’ salaries has also come across his desk, and while Hinds is cau­tious about dic­tat­ing to uni­ver­si­ties on pay, he says: “The com­mit­tee on univer­sity chairs are look­ing at this and one of the things they are putting for­ward is that vice chan­cel­lors shouldn’t sit on their own re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tees and I think that makes per­fect sense.

“We have to have a bal­ance be­cause yes, you have to at­tract the right peo­ple but on the other hand there is a lot of pub­lic money through the stu­dent fi­nance sys­tem and so it’s im­por­tant to have a re­spon­si­ble, value

‘This is a peo­ple busi­ness and great schools are all about great teach­ers, so con­stantly we are think­ing about re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion’

ap­proach.” Hinds, who be­came MP for East Hamp­shire in 2010, held ju­nior min­is­te­rial roles at the Trea­sury and the Depart­ment for Work and Pen­sions but was largely un­known to the pub­lic be­fore his el­e­va­tion to the Cab­i­net in the last reshuf­fle.

That has not stopped Michael Gove tip­ping him as a fu­ture Tory leader – some­thing for which Hinds is un­likely to thank him.

“Peo­ple say all sorts of things all the time,” he says. “This is the best job in gov­ern­ment and I feel incredibly priv­i­leged to be able to do it.”

For Mr Gove, the job of ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary was a stop-off on his ca­reer jour­ney, but for Hinds it was al­ways his in­tended des­ti­na­tion. When he was se­lected to fight the seat he now rep­re­sents, he was asked what his ideal job would be, and he replied that he would love to be an ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter.

“I have the ben­e­fit of knowing I am in the one job in pol­i­tics that I’ve al­ways wanted to do, since be­fore I was elected to Par­lia­ment,” Hinds says.

“I feel very lucky to be here.”

Damian Hinds: ‘I am in the one job in pol­i­tics that I’ve al­ways wanted’

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