No chance for return of grammar schools in Hertfordshire, says education chief

Councillor David Williams, cabinet member for education at Herts County Council.

Councillor David Williams, cabinet member for education at Herts County Council. - Credit: Archant

With the controversial authorisation of the first ‘new’ grammar school in half a century in Kent, councillors in Central Beds have confirmed they are examining their options – but there’s no chance of change in Herts.

The ‘new’ school in Kent sidesteps laws barring the opening of new grammars as an ‘annexe’ of an existing grammar in another town.

But Councillor Mark Versallion, cabinet member for education at Central Beds, is now seeking Whitehall’s permission to explore setting up similar annexes in Bedfordshire.

Councillor David Williams, his counterpart at Herts County Council, isn’t interested. “Absolutely not,” he told the Comet this week.

“Hertfordshire is well and truly committed to comprehensive education.

“With more than 85 per cent of our schools rated good or outstanding, we don’t face the same challenges as Central Beds.

“We work really hard to make sure everyone gets a place at the school of their choice.

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“Any education authority which hasn’t been able to achieve parity of esteem with its neighbours will face the challenge of parents looking for the best solution for their children.”

Grammar schools are selective state schools, with entrance exams at the age of 11.

Although they still exist in some parts of the country, they were largely phased out during the 1960s in favour of comprehensives – which mix pupils from all backgrounds, regardless of academic merit – and in 1998 Labour passed legislation banning the creation of new grammars.

The idea of ‘annexes’ grew out of a loophole in the law allowing existing grammar schools to expand if sufficient demand exists. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan described the Kent project as ‘one school, two sites’.

Grammar school supporters say they provide opportunities to bright pupils from poorer families. Opponents say grammars are divisive and that the students come from disproportionately affluent backgrounds.