Is Theresa May planning an epic battle with some of her own MPs to introduce new grammar schools in England? When Justine Greening gave her statement in the Commons this afternoon, she repeated many of the Prime Minister’s own lines about selection already existing through house prices and so on. But her language was much more conciliatory, with the Education Secretary telling MPs that ‘this is the beginning of a consultation that sets out a debate that we need to have’.
Greening and her colleagues will be responsible for trying to persuade reluctant MPs of the merits of the changes, and she clearly doesn’t want to start a stand-off just yet, even if May does see the policy as a way of defining herself against her predecessor, who will soon be absent from the Commons anyway.
The question is whether the definition of ‘I’m not Cameron’ is more important than the policy itself. Greening told the Commons that the government wanted a schools system that worked for everyone, but the opponents of grammar schools argue that these selective institutions do not work for everyone. They will likely push for such heavy amendments to the proposals in today’s White Paper that the reforms barely resemble what is being proposed. How much May is prepared to concede in order to avoid those amendments turning into bloody fights and defeats in the Commons depends on how much she cares about the actual detail of the policy.