Theresa May wants education system 'with element of selection'

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Theresa May has laid out her plans for a new generation of grammar schools to Conservative MPs by insisting England's education system already has "selection by house price".

The Prime Minister told the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories she wanted to create a "21st century education system" with an "element of selection", sources who were at the meeting said.

Mrs May's comments could be interpreted as an attempt to calm fears that lifting the ban on new grammar schools will only benefit children of the rich, at the expense of the disadvantaged.

She told the meeting: "We have already got selection, haven't we - it's called 'selection by house price'."

Her comments come after her rumoured intentions were confirmed when an official was photographed carrying a document signed by the Department for Education's most senior civil servant revealing proposals for a consultation on opening new grammars.

It said Education Secretary Justine Greening's "clear position" is that they should only be approved once ministers have worked with existing selective schools to show that pupils who do not make the grade are not disadvantaged.

In an effort to pacify concerns that new selective schools may damage social mobility, Mrs May told the 1922 Committee she wanted new grammars to be "inclusive and not exclusive".

Reports last month suggested Mrs May was considering overturning Tony Blair's ban on new grammar schools by sanctioning around 20 institutions in mainly working class areas in an effort to improve social mobility.

The plans have been backed by several Conservative-linked pressure groups and think-tanks but have drawn criticism from opposition parties, unions and other independent organisations.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Government's outgoing chief inspector of schools, on Monday dismissed the selective model and said it would fail the poorest children.

Labour has accused Mrs May of favouring an education system that will only cater for the "select few" while unions have suggested her plans are elitist.