Grammar schools must do more to help children from poorer backgrounds or risk losing their public funding, according to a senior Labour MP.
Lucy Powell will use a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday to highlight the fact that less than 3% of grammar school pupils are eligible for free school meals - the government’s indicator of low income - compared with more than 13% across all high schools.
The Manchester Central MP, who served as shadow education secretary until June last year, will call for social mobility to be put at the heart of education policy and for state funding to be taken away from grammar schools that don’t show proper commitment to helping disadvantaged youngsters.
“Every part of the system should be working to unleash the talents of all young people,” she will say.
“That means existing grammar schools must do more rather than entrenching advantage and damaging wider social mobility.
“Unless they reform admissions urgently and show a substantial boost in the numbers of low income children attending these schools within the next few years, the state should stop funding these schools.
“We should be rewarding schools that do the most for pupil progress, for the majority of pupils, whilst narrowing the attainment gap, which league tables currently fail to do adequately. League tables should be reformed with pupil progress, not simply attainment, as the key measure.”
Theresa May was forced to shelve her flagship policy on grammar schools after last month’s election and education ministers confirmed in response to a written question from Powell that plans to introduce quotas for low income children in selective schools have also been dropped.
The government said it was “encouraged by the number of selective schools that came forward voluntarily to improve their admissions arrangements” in response to a schools consultation.
But figures requested by Powell from the House of Commons library show that across England, half of local authorities with fully or partially selective education systems have seen no progress made, with the proportion of free school meals children in grammar schools either stagnant or falling.
In fully selective areas, half of local areas have seen no change and many schools have barely enough low income children to make up a football team. In Lincolnshire, the proportion of free school meal children in grammar schools has reduced at a time when the local population of low income children has increased.
“Ministers opened a debate about the future of grammar schools before the election,” Powell said.
“They should now have the courage of their convictions and work to ensure more low income children attend these schools.
“Theresa May has asked the Labour Party for answers to tackle the problems facing our country. If Theresa May brings forward proposals to develop a concrete strategy across the life stages to embed social mobility at the heart of government I’m sure she’d have the support of the whole House.”