With the public consultation on grammar schools not even completed yet, the government is wrong to pledge so much money for them in the Autumn Statement.

Far from helping children overcome the increasing divide between well-off and struggling families, the government’s plan to invest millions in new selective schools will leave the vast majority of children worse off, and intensify the pressure on children approaching the end of primary school to compete, perform and prove themselves through exams. Evidence shows that grammar schools, rather than promoting social mobility, exacerbate inequality, benefitting children in relatively wealthy families and leaving behind not only the poorest and children with special educational needs and disabilities, but the entire system of ‘ordinary’ schools whose value to society is pushed even further down the political and financial agenda.

Teachers are clear that students’ mental health is already suffering from the pressure of regular testing and that schools are ill-equipped to support them. Instead of pitting our children against each other at an increasingly early age and entrenching a system of winners and losers, we should be investing this money in quite the opposite: services that reach all children, regardless of wealth or perceived academic potential, and give them the support they need for their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.     

More than 3,500,000 children are living in poverty and over 415,000 children needed food from a food bank in the last financial year. The majority of poor children are in working households, suffering not because their parents are economically inactive but because job security and wages cannot compete with housing costs, food prices and benefit cuts. To the millions of children in England who are experiencing hunger, homelessness and frightening instability in their first few years of life, the prospect of a new type of secondary school that might enhance their educational achievements by one-eighth of a GCSE will seem remote and irrelevant. We need to address the systemic inequality that is failing to meet children's basic needs first.