Education & Family

Labour claims admission changes will expand grammars

Exam hall
Image caption Changes to the school admission code are being challenged by Labour

Labour is calling on Liberal Democrat MPs to support a bid to block changes to school admission rules, which they argue will open a "back door" to expand grammar schools in England.

Education spokesman Stephen Twigg says changes are being "sneaked through".

An education department spokesman rejected claims of favouring grammars.

"We are making it easier for all popular and successful state schools to expand to meet the demands of parents - grammar or not," the spokesman said.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg is arguing that the latest proposed version of the school admission code will restrict the ability of parents to appeal against changes to the allocation of places in schools.

There have been claims that making it easier for schools to expand will be used to increase places in grammar schools.

"The Tory-led government is expanding selection at 11 by the back door, by trying to sneak through changes to the admission code without parliamentary debate," said Mr Twigg.

"They are removing the rights of parents to appeal to the schools' adjudicator on the expansion of grammar schools - shamelessly reversing what the schools minister told Parliament just six months ago.

"We should not divide children at 11, or remove the right of parents to have their say."

Labour's education spokesman says he is writing to every Liberal Democrat MP calling for their support to oppose the proposed admissions rules.

This attack was also pursued in the House of Lords, where Labour peers warned that allowing grammar schools to expand could undermine neighbouring non-selective schools.

"Are you concerned that well-run state schools could be forced into a battle for survival as nearby grammar schools attempt to cherry-pick their best performing pupils?" asked Baroness Jones of Whitchurch.

Parental demand

A Department for Education spokesman rejected the claims about the updated admissions code, arguing that parents could still appeal against admissions arrangements and that the changes in the latest version were simply removing unnecessary "duplication" in regulations.

"Every single change to any school's admission arrangements have to be publicly consulted. Anyone has the power to make formal objections to the independent watchdog to investigate.

"It is right that schools have the power to meet parental demand and decide the number of places they offer."

The education department also restated that new grammar schools could not be opened.

"It remains illegal for any new grammar or partially selective schools to open. Admission by ability cannot be extended outside the tiny number of existing selective schools."

However last week there were reports of a proposed expansion of grammar schools in Kent - with the suggestion that an existing grammar could create a new "satellite" school in another part of the county.

This would mean interpreting the right to expand and create extra places as allowing existing schools to set up branches on another site or in another location.

At present there are 164 grammar schools out of about 3,300 secondary schools in England.

The revised admission code is due to be laid before Parliament on 1 February.

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