The Chancellor Philip Hammond has confirmed that the government will allocate £320m to free schools which will “enable the creation of new academically selective free schools” – grammar schools in all but name.
In his 2017 Budget, he also pledged to invest in “game-changing reforms” for technical education, which would include T-levels, 15 standardised technical qualifications instead of the 13,000 different qualifications in existence today.
Maintenance loans currently available to university students will be extended to those studying at technical courses.
Hammond said: “We commit to this programme because we understand choice is the key to excellence in education.”
He claimed the government was “putting the next generation first to safeguard their future and to secure our economy”.
The Chancellor pledged to invest £320m this Parliament to fund up to 140 schools, including independent-led, faith, selective, university-led and specialist maths schools.
While the return of grammar schools has been widely criticised by educational professionals as a subsidy for the middle classes, Hammond attempted to show he was interested in assisting the poorest pupils with a pledge of free public transport for the poorest children on the roll.
However, as critics pointed out, very few beneficiaries of grammar schools are on free school meals.
Hammond says pupils at selective schools on free school meals will get free travel. 2.3% students in grammar schools eligible for FSM
— Aisha S Gani (@aishagani) March 8, 2017
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner tweeted that the government was opening free schools “where they are not needed”. Labour has vigorously opposed the reintroduction of grammar schools, which were seen as creaming off the most privileged pupils while leaving others to a substandard education.
Predictably, the prospect of new grammars has set May on collision course with the teaching unions, who have made their objections to this policy firmly and abundantly clear (Labour and the Lib Dems are also opposed).
In 2016, Education secretary Justine Greening pledged to expand grammar schools, lift the 50 per cent cap on religious pupils admitted to faith schools, and encouraged independent schools to take a paternalistic interest in the state sector.