A number of selective secondary schools catering for the country’s most able pupils will be set up within the next few years, according to one of the country’s leading grammar school heads.
The new breed of schools will not have the grammar school label – but will offer more traditional subjects such as Latin and Greek and cater for the gifted pupil, said Charlotte Marten, the headteacher of Rugby High School for Girls in Warwickshire and a prominent figure in the Grammar School Heads Association.
They will be modelled along the lines of the London Academy of Excellence in Stratford, east London, which was the first sixth form college to be set up under the Government’s free schools scheme in September 2012. Supported by eight independent schools, including Eton and Highgate, it concentrates on admitting bright pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In the Conservative election campaign the Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to more than double the number of free schools during the lifetime of this parliament by creating another 500.
“My feeling would be that with the diversity we are currently seeing in the state system and the growth of free schools and academies you will see a movement in that direction,” said Ms Marten.
She added that the new schools may be more selective than the grammar schools with their intakes.
“In my school we are less selective at 16 than we are at 11,” she said. “We do take in students who get five grade Bs at GCSE – although we also have a string of applicants with strong A* and A-grade passes.
“It is my view that if a community wants that diverse provision which offers a slightly different academic curriculum – perhaps it is going to have Latin and Greek alongside history and modern foreign languages – it should be something for that community to decide.”
Ms Marten said that the number of pupils attending grammar schools was likely to grow during the lifetime of this parliament as a result of the Government’s decision to allow popular schools to expand.
Her school, a girls’ school in Warwickshire, is already in the middle of an expansion programme. Currently it has 823 pupils on the school roll – a figure that would rise to 900 in two years.
“In an area like Rugby, it means the proportion of pupils that we take in remains roughly the same because of the population increase,” she said.
“From our point of view, there was a clear financial imperative to expand,” she explained.
Admitting new pupils is one of the best methods of combating cuts to sixth-form funding – introduced because the Government’s commitment to maintain funding applies only to five to 16-year-olds.
“It is very difficult to offer a broad curriculum – particularly with what’s happening to sixth-form funding and if you’re a sixth-form college and can’t take the money from elsewhere.”
She also noted that a growing numbers of schools are following the example of the King Edward VI Foundation grammar schools in Birmingham where a lower pass mark had been set for disadvantaged pupils in the 11-plus exam. “My school is doing that,” she said.
In all, she estimated around one in four grammar schools were adopting similar initiatives, such as making the test tutor-resistant by concentrating on IQ questions, with more about to start down that route. One school has increased the number of disadvantaged pupils it took in from six per cent to 20 per cent in a year.
She said there had been “a little” opposition to the move but added: “I think that the community as a whole seems to accept that pupils from a deprived background have the dice loaded against them – and that it might be appropriate to offer them a lower pass rate. After all, universities give lower offers to students who come from families who may be more disadvantaged.”
On the Government’s plan to insist all secondary school pupils study the English Baccalaureate subjects – maths, English, science, a language and history or geography – to GCSE level at 16, she said: “For some schools it is a really big shift.
“We want students to be challenged and stretched and I think the Government is right that all children should be challenged and stretched but I do wonder if this particular diet is right for all pupils.”