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Government dismisses reports grammar schools are to lower 11-plus pass marks for poorer pupils

PUBLISHED: 10:49 13 March 2017 | UPDATED: 10:49 13 March 2017

Grammar schools are a controversial topic

Grammar schools are a controversial topic

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A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the claims were “based on speculation”

Reports that grammar schools are to lower entry test pass marks for poorer pupils have been dismissed as “speculation” by the Department for Education.

According to reports in The Times, a “government source” said the new generation of grammar schools were expected to level the playing field by lowering pass marks for disadvantaged pupils and letting children sit entrance exams in “familiar venues near their homes”.

However, a spokesperson for the DfE said the claims were “based on speculation”.

“It hasn’t come from us and we’re not going to stand it up,” said the spokesperson.

Proposals by the DfE instead favour “lifting the ban on new grammars”.

The spokesperson said: “Our proposals are about creating more choice, with more good school places for more parents in more parts of the country.

“We want to do this by lifting the ban on new grammars and harnessing the resources and expertise of universities, faith schools and independent schools.”

Reacting to the reports, Robert McCartney QC, Chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association (NGSA), said such “pinprick” measures to “cushion” students would further disadvantage poorer pupils in the long term, by leaving them unable to compete with more privileged students who have been coached.

“How are children from these areas going to compete in these tests against middle class children with a number of advantages from private coaching to domestic circumstances? The answer is, they’re not.

“The government is trying to, for I think political reasons, give the impression that if they are forced to take more disadvantaged children at a lower level of entry, this would somehow be a cure.

“It’s at most a pinprick.”

The NGSA is instead calling for primary schools to raise their expectations of pupils, with Mr McCartney saying the “powerless” state of primary school education was the real problem for disadvantaged pupils.

“They’re perpetuating the problem of poor primary school education, by allowing for it in entry into grammar schools,” he said.

Government figures released this week revealed just 2.6 per cent of grammar school pupils were eligible for free school meals, compared with 11.6 per cent of secondary modern school pupils and 14.1 per cent of pupils across all secondary schools.

A row erupted last week when a number of Kent MPs praised the chancellor’s announcement in his budget of free transport for the poorest grammar school pupils.

However, it led Labour councillor Roger Truelove to brand the Conservatives “out of touch” for trumpeting a policy already employed by Kent County Council.

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