Shirebrook head attacks Budget plans for new grammar schools

Head teacher Mark Cottingham, who says money should be spent on existing schools, not new grammar schools.
Head teacher Mark Cottingham, who says money should be spent on existing schools, not new grammar schools.

Government plans to fund new grammar schools have been blasted as “wasteful and counterproductive” by a head teacher based in Shirebrook.

The decision to grant £360 million for up to 140 free schools, many of which are likely to become grammar schools, was confirmed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, in his spring Budget.

But Mark Cottingham, boss at Shirebrook Academy, branded the decision as “maddening” at a time when many existing schools are struggling financially. And he questioned whether the new schools were needed at all.

The Chancellor also announced a further £260 million to be spent on infrastructure to rebuild and refurbish existing schools, but his free-school funding plans have caused uproar among teaching professionals.

Mr Cottingham said: “The government has a wasteful and counterproductive obsession with free schools and grammar schools, for which there is no evidence of need, effectiveness or desire among communities.

“This vanity project is pulling money away from existing schools that can’t afford teachers and equipment. People just want a good local school that is properly funded, not grammar schools, free schools or any other confusing ménage of false choices.

“The government says its is maintaining funding to schools, but this is only true in absolute figures, not real terms. It doesn’t take account of rising costs and rising pupil-numbers, so a flat rate of funding is actually an 8% cut, and many schools are struggling on existing budgets.”

However, Mr Cottingham did welcome Mr Hammond’s plans to spend £500 million on introducing new T-levels for students taking vocational subjects, saying they would encourage young people to learn the practical skills necessary for the UK’s future prosperity.

He said: “T-levels will give much-needed parity of esteem for technical qualifications alongside the academic A-levels so that people will be attracted to learn the skills that the economy needs, especially when we can’t easily import labour after Brexit.

“This is the Holy Grail of policy-making that has escaped governments since the 1960s, so if they can pull it off, it will be a triumph.

“It’s not actually a new announcement, but the promise of money is good and will be a boost to further education colleges, which are currently poorly funded and a bit of a Cinderella service.”