The Department for Education has missed the deadline for my Freedom of Information request asking for names of officials in its selective education team, when it was set up and who it met with.
The existence of a selective education team was revealed in the Spring newsletter of the Grammar Schools Heads Association (GSHA). This showed GSHA executive officers had had ‘meetings’ with the ‘new selective education DfE team’ led by Josephine Howarth, DfE Strategy Unit, and Nick Timothy, joint Chief of Staff in Downing Street.
In addition to these meetings, which apparently took place during the consultation on key proposals in Schools That Work for Everyone, GSHA officers and several school heads (presumably from grammar schools) met with Education Secretary Justine Greening, schools minister Nick Gibb and ‘officers’ to discuss the ‘next steps’ on ‘Lifting the ban on Grammar Schools’ shortly after the consultation ended. It's odd that 'next steps' were discussed before consultation results have been published. This suggests the consultation, which was dodgy in any case, was a paper exericse to persuade the public that the government 'listens'.
It could be argued that these meetings were part of the consultation. It’s unclear, then, why the GSHA needed more than one. It’s also unclear if the team had similar meetings with other organisations. My FoI request asking this has also been delayed. The DfE asked me to clarify my request in an email from an unmonitored account. This was odd since the requested clarification was in my original question. And any reply to an unmonitored account is unlikely to be read. I’ve requested an internal review.
Nick Gibb, in a Commons written answer, said there were ‘16 full-time equivalent staff working on the Schools that work for everyone consultation, including policy proposals on selective education’. It’s to be expected staff are needed to oversee any consultation. But working on a consultation does not mean forcefully promoting one of the proposals during the consultation period.
It’s clear the Government is pulling out all the stops in its efforts to set up new grammar schools. This is despite mounting evidence that they have a negative effect on the majority of children who aren’t selected.
Justine Greening was heckled when she defended grammar school plans at the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference. She said grammars helped to close the ‘attainment gap’ between advantaged and disadvantaged children. But, as I’ve pointed out before, when pupils entering grammars are selected for their ability, there is no gap to start with.
The government says grammar schools are essential for social mobility – giving a leg up to the poor. It’s unclear how allowing a small proportion (one-in-ten if the new grammars are super selective as has been suggested) of disadvantaged children can help all children out of poverty. It won’t.
And the DfE should come clean about any back-room manoeuvering with special interest groups to impose an unwelcome and divisive proposal on the school system in England, parents and, above all, children and young people.