Grammars to give poor pupils admissions priority

Pupil with pen Some 30 schools will change their admission procedures from next year says the government

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More than half of grammar schools in England are planning to change their admissions procedures to give priority to poorer children.

The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that it has given permission for 30 schools to change their admission procedures.

Some 58 more are considering a similar change, according to the Grammar School Heads Association (GSHA).

The Sutton Trust, which campaigns for fairer admissions, welcomed the move.

Among the schools making the change in 2015 is Rugby High School, where the head teacher Charlotte Marten is GSHA chairwoman.

Flexibility

It will offer 10 out of 120 places to students on free school meals who meet or are within ten marks of the school's 11-plus admissions criteria.

Ms Marten said: "We feel that we can allow a little bit more flexibility."

The schools's original founder was "keen to make sure that a good academic education was available to all the girls of Rugby, and not just for the wealthy", she added.

Ms Marten said that for Rugby High School, the move was "more of a signal".

"It may mean that students who have perhaps thought 'this isn't for me because I am on free school meals', might just apply when they wouldn't have done in the past."

The King Edward VI group which runs five grammar schools in Birmingham also confirmed plans to change its admissions criteria for next year.

The group has expanded the overall number of places at its schools and aims to take 20% of pupils on free school meals.

However, Ms Marten said she did not expect all of England's 164 grammar schools to follow suit.

"What we are doing will not necessarily be right for all schools in all circumstances", she said.

Barry Sindall, GSHA chief executive, told the Times Educational Supplement that five or six schools had already introduced new admissions policies for the 2014 intake.

Mr Sindall said he did not anticipate that the changes would mean that middle class children would lose out.

'Tutor proofing'

"This is reaching out at the margins in a way that won't deprive other people of a place.

"The real need is to raise the standard among free school meals pupils," he added.

James Turner, Sutton Trust director of programmes, said the move was an important step forward and hoped it would help with some of the access issues it had identified.

However, he warned that admissions policies were "just one part of the equation".

Last year a report by the charity argued for an end to a culture of coaching pupils for 11-plus tests so that poor bright children are not excluded from grammar schools.

The report said tests should be changed regularly so that they are tutor proof and urged grammar schools to offer test preparation classes to all candidates.

The government said its pupil premium priority scheme allows all maintained schools to apply to the Secretary of State to give preference to pupils on free school meals: "to give children from low-income families a better chance of accessing good schools which they may not otherwise have considered."

"All pupils must pass entrance tests before being considered for a place at a selective school", said a DfE spokesman.

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