11:00AM, Friday 13 January 2017
A grammar school considered by the Royal Borough to help bring selective education to Maidenhead has been blasted by a former shadow education secretary for its social mobility record.
Research carried out by Labour MP Lucy Powell, who held the shadow cabinet post until June, showed Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School (SWBGS), in Marlow, has just three children among its ranks who are eligible for free school meals.
This is equivalent to just 0.3 per cent of the 1,065 children at the West Street school, according to Ofsted figures.
Ms Powell (left) said: “The record of SWBGS when it comes to social mobility should ring alarm bells for anyone calling for the expansion of selective education into Maidenhead.
“All the evidence shows us that bright children from all backgrounds do just as well at good comprehensives and Ministers should be focusing their energies on dealing with the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention and ensuring all schools have enough resources rather than fixating on one type of school.”
In November 2015, Royal Borough councillors approved plans to carry out due diligence work with a view to it opening a satellite campus in Maidenhead, prompted by a similar scheme in Kent.
At the time, £200,000 was allocated to examine the possibility with SWBGS.
However, since Maidenhead MP Theresa May moved into Downing Street government attitudes have softened, with the prospect of new grammar schools being created once again on the agenda.
As a result, only about £5,000 of the original allocation was spent, with the rest returned to the council’s general fund.
Ms Powell added the Prime Minister should be ‘deeply worried’ by the data, which she also said undermined claims of improved social mobility through selective education.
Cllr Natasha Airey, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services said the introduction of a grammar school was still something the Royal Borough was pursuing.
But she added that changes in government policy meant a greater number of options were now available.
“We were working with them [SWBGS] and one thing we had raised with them was our concern with the pupil premium numbers,” she said.
“They acknowledged that – and that’s where the discussion stopped being exclusively with them.”
She added: “We haven’t withdrawn from [dealing with] them, but the landscape has changed.
“At the time, we were watching the situation in Kent very closely and now we know that selective education will probably come in through legislation at some point.
“This means we can now be a bit more open with others who may want to register an interest.”
Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School and Cllr Zahir Mohammed, Buckinghamshire County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, have been contacted for comment.
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