Grammar schools in England will receive £50m to create new places – and a route has been opened to create new faith schools, Education Secretary Damian Hinds has announced.
But the government has ditched its original plans to make it easier for religious groups to open free schools.
Instead local authorities will have funds to open new faith schools.
Mr Hinds said the plans would “give parents greater choice”, but union leaders have criticised the decision.
Kevin Courtney, leader of the National Education Union, said: “The grammar school corpse has climbed out of its coffin once again despite evidence of the damage that selective education causes.”
What is a grammar school?
Grammar schools are state secondary schools that select their pupils by means of an exam taken by children at age 11, sometimes known as the 11-plus.
There are 163 grammar schools in England, out of some 3,000 state secondaries, and a further 67 grammar schools in Northern Ireland.
There are no state grammars in Wales or Scotland.
The government’s loss of its parliamentary majority in the general election meant abandoning plans to open new grammars – but the allocation of the funding will allow more selective places to be created in existing schools.
Grammar schools seeking money from the “selective schools expansion fund” will have to show they ensure fair access for disadvantaged pupils.
It will allow grammars to grow bigger or to develop spin-off sites.
Last year the Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge built an “annexe” in Sevenoaks, 10 miles from its main site, with room for 450 pupils, and costing £19m.
But Nick Brook, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was wrong to fund “such an elitist policy” when “school budgets are at breaking point”.
“The government cannot point to a single piece of evidence that shows strong educational benefit of this misguided policy,” said Mr Brook.
But the Grammar School Heads’ Association chief executive Jim Skinner welcomed that “selective schools now have access to a fund to allow them to expand their premises”.
Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said: “We are disappointed that the government has decided to spend scarce funding on expanding grammar schools.”
Last week, in an address to head teachers, Mr Hinds acknowledged the funding pressure on schools, but did not offer any short-term prospect of extra funds.
There had also been an election promise to remove the cap on faith free schools, which means that only 50% of places can be allocated on grounds of religion.
The government had promised to remove this and bring free schools into line with the admissions rules of other faith schools in the state sector, where they can allocate all places on faith grounds.
But the government has reversed this promise – and instead says it will provide funds for local authorities to create a new generation of “voluntary-aided” faith schools.
These will be able to be fully selective on grounds of religion – and the funding for their creation will be taken from the pot of money set for the creation of new free schools.
There had been a presumption that all new schools would have to be free schools – but Mr Hinds is now signalling that local authorities will be able to open these new faith schools, where there is demand.
About a third of all state schools in England are faith schools – with a high majority of these either Church of England or Roman Catholic.
The highest achieving school in the most recent GCSE exam league tables was a Muslim school in Blackburn.
Archbishop Malcolm MacMahon, speaking on behalf of the Catholic education sector, said the government had “broken a promise” over changes to free school admissions.
The Church of England said it welcomed the opportunity to open new schools – and said dropping the plans to change the rules over free schools would not “impact on that commitment”.
But Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said keeping the limits on faith-based admission for free schools was a “victory for integration”.
Launching the plans, Mr Hinds said: “Children only get one chance at an education and they deserve the best, wherever they live and whatever their background.
“By creating new schools where they are needed most and helping all great schools to grow, we can give parents greater choice in looking at schools that are right for their family – and give children of all backgrounds access to a world-class education.”