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Government grammar schools plan caught by Number 10 photographer

An unnamed official was pictured carrying a memo about grammar schools at Downing Street. Credit: Steve Back

The government is reportedly planning to back new grammar schools, according to Cabinet papers accidentally shown to cameras in Downing Street.

The memo, signed by the Department for Education's most senior civil servant Jonathan Slater, said Education Secretary Justine Greening planned to launch a consultation into opening new grammars.

The blunder emerged when photographer Steve Back, who runs a company called Political Pictures, spotted the document being carried into Number 10.

The proposals would increase the number of selective schools for the first time in a generation.

Slater warns of problems getting the policy through the House of Lords without measures to "avoid disadvantaging those who don't get in".

The document said 'we will open new grammars'. Credit: Steve Back

In the paper, Slater states:

The con doc [consultation document] says we will open new grammars, albeit that they would have to follow various conditions.

The SoS’s [Secretary of State’s] clear position is that this should be presented in the con doc as an option, and only to be pursued once we have worked with existing grammars to show how they can be expanded and reformed in ways which avoid disadvantaging those who don’t get in.

I simply don’t know what the PM thinks of this, but it sounds reasonable to me, and I simply can’t see any way of persuading the Lords to vote for selection on any other basis.

– Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary, Department of Education

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said: "The cat is out of the bag: behind closed doors the Tories are planning a return to the bad old days of grammars, ignoring all the evidence which has told us time and again that they do not aid social mobility."

Theresa May backed the expansion of a grammar school in her own Maidenhead constituency while she was Home Secretary.

After she became prime minister, it was reported that May would end the existing ban on new selective schools. However, she has not commented on whether a new wave of grammar schools will be pushed through.

The photographed documents is the latest in a long list of embarrassing gaffes. Credit: Steve Back

A government spokesperson said in a statement: "The prime minister has been clear that we need to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few."

“We are looking at a range of options to allow more children to access a school that lets them rise as far as their talents will take them.

“Policies on education will be set out in due course and it would be inappropriate to comment further on internal government documents.”

Theresa May has refused to comment on plans for new grammar schools. Credit: PA Wire

State grammars select pupils at the age of 11 and although they typically produce excellent results, critics point out that they disadvantage children from poorer backgrounds.

The gaffe is the latest in a string of papers being accidentally revealed to photographers sitting opposite Number 10.

In January, an event on Syrian refugees scheduled to take place in Davos featuring the Queen of Jordan was exposed to photographers.