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Jeremy Corbyn claims government ‘barking up the wrong tree completely’ as Philip Hammond set to announce funding for more grammars

PUBLISHED: 11:24 07 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:24 07 March 2017

Grammar schools are a controversial topic

Grammar schools are a controversial topic

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While Kent County Council and some MPs have been supportive, non-selective heads and unions are opposed to the plans

More than half a billion pounds is to be pumped into creating new free schools, including grammars, and refurbishing existing school buildings, the government has said.

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget will include £320m to help fund up to 140 new schools, creating more than 70,000 new places.

The investment is intended to build on the government’s commitment to open 500 new free schools by 2020, he will announce on Wednesday.

The move follows on from prime minister Theresa May’s pledge last autumn to create a place at a good school for every child, in part through allowing selective schools to expand and new ones to open.

The controversial announcement attracted widespread criticism, with opponents in Kent and beyond arguing that expansion will lead to segregation and a two-tier education system.

It is understood the government has not set a target on the number of grammar schools it wants to open with this new funding, but is open to these selective institutions submitting proposals.

The budget will also include a further £216m to rebuild and refurbish existing schools in England, to ensure that they are fit for purpose.

This money is on top of existing plans to spend more than £10bn on school buildings over the course of this parliament.

And the current entitlement for children who access free home-to-school travel will be expanded to cover selective schools.

However, while Kent County Council largely supports the expansion of grammars in the county, and Kelly Tolhurst voiced her support for the existing schools in Medway, the plans have been met with vehement opposition elsewhere.

Non-selective heads like Phil Karnavas at Canterbury Academy have told us that grammar expansion “appears to reduce the pledge of a ‘one nation’ country based upon social justice that ‘works for everyone’

to rubble”.

He was among dozens of Kent non-selective heads to write to Mrs May outlining their concerns with the plans just before Christmas and along with campaigners Kent Education Network and the National Union of Teachers, has instead called for improved funding for existing schools, facing “apocalyptic” cuts of £40m and 1,000 teacher job losses by 2020.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the government was “barking up the wrong tree completely” on education.

Mr Corbyn told BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “This issue is of school funding and school places.

“The issue isn’t going around to develop selective education, the issue is supporting the schools that we’ve got and supporting the principle of local community schools rather than selection.

“There is no great public support for selection, because they realise if you have selection for one group of people, somebody else doesn’t get selected.”

Mr Hammond said: “Investing in education and skills is the single most important thing that we can do to equip our children for the future.

“We are not starting from scratch; we have protected the core schools budget, which stands at over £40 billion this year, and these announcements take the next steps in giving parents greater choice in finding a good school for their child, whatever their background.”

Meopham School last year became the first non-selective to start consulting on proposals to convert into a grammar by the start of the 2018 academic year.

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