Comprehensive school headteachers will be forced to apply to select pupils on the basis of ability for “fear of being left behind”, a union leader has warned.
Ministers this week set out more detail of how they will expand the number of grammar schools in England, including plans to allow existing comprehensives to select their students.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said the majority of heads and teachers were against the government’s proposals to expand academic selection as set out in thegovernment’s Green Paper.
But he predicted that as soon as one head decided to select their intake on the basis of academic ability, many more would be pushed into doing the same in a bid to compete.
“A large percentage of the profession are hostile to this,” Mr Hobby said. “In the early days, there certainly won’t be large-scale uptake on it. But as with all these situations, it can sometimes just take one school in an area to opt for it, and other schools will fear they will be left behind and feel they have to do it or get marginalised.”
The union leader added that the vast expansion of selection in the school system would “reignite competition at an even more intense level than we have ever had”.
The consultation document is unclear as to how the government will decide which comprehensive schools will be allowed to select, but it does state that it will take measures to “preserve school diversity in areas where schools choose to convert in this way”.
According to a well-placed source, Downing Street officials have “no answers” as yet on the question of which schools will be allowed to select and had “not considered” the possibility of a “domino effect” of comprehensives applying.
“They will have to have a set of criteria, which the regional schools commissioner or similar will sign off,” the source said. “But if they leave it to a first come, first served basis, there will be a rush of schools applying.
“Some areas will hold out [from applying], such as Camden, but in others areas a school will break, they will want to take advantage of the changes. If you are a school that is not the top-performing school in an area, you would opt for it if it meant improving your results.