Campaign to end grammar schools

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST round in a national campaign to end selection for secondary schools began yesterday. Councillors, heads, teachers and governors in Kent announced that they were distributing 10,000 leaflets to persuade parents that the 11-plus examination, which is used to select children for grammar schools, should be abolished.

Their opponents said last night that they were preparing a counter-campaign, which would start later this month.

Under regulations to be announced shortly by the Government parents will be able to petition for a ballot on the future of grammar schools in their area. Conservative-controlled Kent has one of the largest concentrations of grammar schools in the country. More than a quarter of pupils win places in selective schools.

The Campaign for State Education, the parents' pressure group, will hold a public meeting 24 October to launch its "Say No to Selection" campaign. Lord Hattersley, the Labour peer, and Jonathan Shaw, the Labour MP for the Medway Towns, will be among the speakers.

Most local education authorities abolished the 11-plus in the 1970s after an outcry from parents of all political persuasions. Just 161 grammar schools remain. They are concentrated in Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Bexley, Slough, Southend, Torbay, Trafford and Kent.

John Major, the former Conservative Prime Minister, promised "a grammar school in every town" before the last general election. Labour stopped short of saying that grammar schools should be abolished but said that parents should have the right to vote on their future.

Ministers are proposing that a ballot should take place if 20 per cent of parents petition for one. In predominantly selective areas, such as Kent, all parents would have the right to vote. In other parts of the country, where there are fewer grammar schools, only parents from feeder schools that regularly send pupils to these grammar schools would be eligible.

Councillor Joyce Esterson, shadow chairwoman of Kent's education committee and one of the leaders of the county's Stop The Eleven-Plus campaign (STEP), said: "We have to persuade 80,000 people to sign a petition. The Government has made it almost impossible for us.

"But this is a popular campaign with governors, head teachers and parents. The main aim is to inform parents. We shall be holding public meetings next month."

It would be up to schools to decide how they should distribute the leaflets. "An enormous number of head teachers is in favour of the campaign," she added.

John Harris, vice-chairman of the Grammar Schools Association and head of Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Canterbury, said that a campaign called "Support Kent Schools", which aimed to preserve grammar schools, would begin later this month.

"This is a campaign for all schools. There is research evidence that where grammar schools exist, all schools do better," he said. "We expect a petition to be started some time after Christmas. Sixty per cent of Kent parents put their children in for the 11-plus so we are hopeful."