Education: Ballot on future of grammar schools rigged, say Tories

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The Independent Online
GOVERNMENT PLANS to hold ballots on Britain's remaining grammar schools would "rig" the vote in favour of abolition, Tory MPs claimed yesterday.

The shadow Schools Minister, Damien Green, led an opposition onslaught on the proposals during a heated debate in the Commons. He claimed that it was unfair on parents that the question on ballot papers would not include the phrase "grammar school".

But the Schools Minister, Estelle Morris, told the Fifth Standing Committee on Education (Grammar School Ballots) Regulations 1998, that all ballots would be unambiguous.

MPs approved the new regulations, effectively handing the decision on the future of the 166 remaining grammar schools to local parents. Under the rules, 20 per cent of parents must sign a petition to trigger a ballot on the future status of a selective school.

However, the Tories claimed that it was misleading to ask parents if they were in favour of "all the schools listed introducing admission arrangements which admit children of all abilities". Mr Green said many parents would not realise the implications of a vote.

Phil Willis, a Liberal Democrat education spokesman, also criticised the detailed rules, branding them a "dog's dinner".

Graham Lane, the education chairman of the Local Government Association, said the system was broadly fair. Tory attacks on the proposals were "the rantings of people living in the 1920s", he said.

There have already been complaints from anti-selection campaigners that the rules favour some grammar schools. In some areas with scattered remaining grammar schools, only parents at "feeder" primary schools would have a vote.

It was also claimed yesterday the campaign to abolish the last grammar schools has been taken up by parents in almost half the local authorities which still run selective schools. The Campaign for State Education said it had received expressions of interest from parents in 14 of the 36 authorities which still have grammar schools.