Anger over Labour's grammar school deal

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Ministers angered Labour MPs, teachers' leaders and parents by announcing a thaw in the icy relations with grammar schools.

Ministers angered Labour MPs, teachers' leaders and parents by announcing a thaw in the icy relations with grammar schools.

The Government said it was setting aside £500,000 for a series of partnerships between grammar and non-selective schools in an attempt to break down the barriers between the two sectors.

The announcement was described as "sickening" by parents' groups opposed to selection, while supporters of grammar schools said they hoped it would pave the way for removing legislation allowing parents to end selection in their area. It also coincided with an early-day motion in the House of Commons, signed by 30 MPs – mostly Labour – aimed at persuading the Government to follow the example of the Northern Ireland Assembly and abolish selection.

Stephen Timms, minister for School Standards, said yesterday's move would lead to "unique partnerships". He added: "There is a wealth of talent and expertise in both the grammar and non-selective sectors. We want to unlock that potential for both sectors to share that knowledge."

But Margaret Tulloch, of the Campaign for State Education, a parents' group that opposes selection, said: "I think it is appalling that the Government thinks this is a substitute for looking at the long-term effects of selection on pupils."

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education, described the initiative as the last nail in the coffin of comprehensive education, saying it would give the green light to, "schools around the country to reintroduce social, economic and academic division by selection".

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "It is a bizarre use of public money to encourage the development of more diversity in schools and then have to spend extra money to encourage those diverse elements to co-operate."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "We are all for the spreading of good practice. However, any assumption grammar schools would be the lead body in this would be an insult to the skills and talents of teachers in comprehensive schools around the country."

The Conservative Party and grammar school headteachers urged the Government to go a step further and remove the legislation allowing parents a ballot to end selective schooling in their area.

Roger Hale, headteacher of Caistor Grammar School in Lincolnshire, which has already formed links with local non-selective schools under a £240,000 school improvement programme, said: "If they're going to put their money where their mouth is, they should get rid of the legislation. We don't fear it. There has only been one ballot [in Ripon, North Yorkshire] and that was substantially in favour of retaining the school, but it is a threat."

Labour was committed to the abolition of grammar schools until the mid 1990s, when the scheme to allow parents a ballot was introduced. Although the current policy bans new grammar schools, it still causes divisions within the party. The early-day motion is sponsored by David Chaytor, the Labour MP for Bury North.

Officials at the Department for Education and Skills insisted yesterday's announcement did not mean the bar on new grammar schools would be lifted. There are 164 in England.