Rishi Sunak faces rebellion from dismayed Tory MPs over grammar schools

Jonathan Gullis is one of those calling for the ban on new grammar schools to be lifted - Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
Jonathan Gullis is one of those calling for the ban on new grammar schools to be lifted - Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Tory backbenchers are planning to force Rishi Sunak into a rethink over his decision to keep the ban on new grammar schools, The Telegraph can reveal.

MPs plan to amend government legislation at the first opportunity to overturn the prohibition of new selective schools in England.

It came after the Government indicated that it would retain a set of restrictions dating back to the New Labour era.

Jonathan Gullis, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, who is a vocal campaigner for academic selection, recently asked the Department for Education (DfE) what assessment had been made of “the potential merits of removing legislative restrictions on the establishment of new grammar schools”.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, responded that while the DfE wants grammars “to continue to play an important role within the education system”, its priority is to “concentrate on ensuring that as many children as possible, whatever their ability, have access to an outstanding education, rather than creating more grammar schools”.

The news has caused dismay to pro-grammar Tories, after a pledge to lift the ban by Mr Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, had raised their hopes.

Mr Sunak had also expressed support for the move during a hustings event, although his campaign team later clarified that his comment was “about expanding existing grammar schools”.

'Extremely disappointed'

Mr Gullis told The Telegraph that he was “extremely disappointed” by the latest news.

He said: “The minister himself admits that grammar schools play an important role in the school system, so what I can’t get my head around is that if they do play such an important role, why can’t every part of the country be able to have them if they wish to?

“As a Conservative Party, we should not be in the job of banning things for the sake of banning things, and this just seems to be an arbitrary ban with no real purpose.”

He said he would work with pro-grammar Tories - including Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers - to put pressure on the Government to execute an about-turn.

Mr Gullis has previously told The Telegraph that at least 50 Tory MPs were prepared to go public to throw their weight behind an effort to lift the ban.

An opportunity could present itself through the Schools Bill drawn up by Boris Johnson’s government.

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, is currently undertaking a review of the legislation.

The Telegraph understands that while she may not take forward the Bill in full, she is likely to legislate for specific measures contained within it - such as a mandatory register for homeschooled children.

Mr Gullis said: “If any legislation comes forward related to schools, I will be working with Graham to immediately put down an amendment to lift these arbitrary bans.”

Addressing Mr Sunak directly, he said: “I would remind the Prime Minister of the supportive words he gave in the summer during the leadership hustings to grammar schools, and I would question why he wouldn’t want to simply go ahead with lifting the ban.

“It would cost no money, and it in fact empowers local communities to decide for themselves if this is something they want, and then they can make their case to the DfE as to why they think they should have it.”

'Vital role of free state grammar schools'

Sir Graham said: “On Wednesday, Rishi Sunak rightly made a passionate defence of excellent independent schools and the role they play in supporting aspiration in our country.

“It’s essential that a Conservative government also understands the vital role of free state grammar schools in providing that support for aspirational students who will benefit from a more academic education regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.”

A rebellion over grammar schools would cause a new headache for Mr Sunak, with restive Tory backbenchers already seeking to pressure the Government over issues such as planning and onshore wind.

Mr Gullis said: “Graham and I would like to think we could have a substantial number of colleagues support such an amendment.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, I hope the Government itself comes forward with legislation.”

A DfE spokesman confirmed to The Telegraph that it was not planning legislation to lift the ban.

The spokesman said: “Grammar schools overwhelmingly provide an excellent education to their pupils. That said, our focus is on making sure every child has access to a high-quality education, whatever their ability, or type of school they go to.”