‘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,’ Jim Skinner, Chief Executive of the Grammar School Heads’ Association (GSHA), said.
This implies grammar schools haven’t been able to obtain finance to fund expansion until ‘now’. But this is untrue.
Academy grammars are able to increase their pupil admission number (PAN) in the same way as other academies. This doesn’t necessarily mean, of course, that money would automatically follow for new buildings to accommodate extra pupils. But money has been available to allow grammars to expand.
The annexe for Weald of Kent of Kent Grammar school, for example, was dubbed the first ‘new grammar’ in 50 years when it opened last September. It’s ten miles from the main site and cost £19m. It’s difficult to believe this new building was built without accessing government funds.
Bourne Grammar School, which increased its PAN while the ink still wet on its funding agreement, has a new science block. Headteacher Jonathan Maddox said:
‘The science block has transformed our school. Now with all the space we need to accommodate our expanded numbers, we see our science block as our flagship building’.
Again, 'all the space' needed for expanded numbers was surely financed with government funding.
And Ashlawn School, a bi-lateral* school in Rugby, announced its expansion – a new school, no less – just after David Cameron left office in June 2016. Interestingly, the Department for Education (DfE) denied in March 2016 that there had been any ‘proposed expansion application’ for Ashlawn School. However, there’d been a meeting between the school’s head, Lois Reed, local MP Mark Pawsey and schools minister Nick Gibb in December 2015. Freedom of Information revealed that the meeting was not about the ‘actual physical expansion’ but ‘possible ways of increasing the proportion of pupils it admits by ability’.
It could be argued that as Ashlawn School’s expansion is a new school, it would be a free school. Free schools can’t select their pupils by ability. But this new school is not on the list of free schools at the pre-opening stage. If it’s not a free school, would Ashlawn’s expansion be classed as an ‘annexe’ and operate under the same admission criteria as its parent school?
These three examples show selective schools have not been denied access to government funds. It is disingenuous, therefore, to claim finance is only ‘now’ available.
*bi-later schools are allowed to admit a proportion of their pupils by ability. In 2016/17, Ashlawn School could select up to 12% of its PAN according to ability. In theory, 88% of Ashlawn’s intake is chosen without reference to ability. But the school nevertheless has an intake heavily skewed to high prior attainers. The 2017 GCSE cohort contained 132 high prior attainers, 102 middle prior attainers and just 19 low prior attainers (see School Performance Tables).
CORRECTIONS 15.01: The MP for Rugby is Mark Pawsey not Mark Pawsley as stated in the original article. This has been corrected. Also in the original article I had said, "the Dfe denied in March 2016 that there had been no ‘proposed expansion application’ for Ashlawn School." This should have read "denied in March 2016 that there had been any ‘proposed expansion application’ for Ashlawn School." This, too, has been put right.
UPDATE: 15 June 2018. Ashlawn School's expansion is now listed on the DfE list of free schools at the pre-opening stage. It's a secondary school provisionally called Ashlawn Free School. As a free school, it would not be allowed to select according to ability.