Kent parents bow out of fight against grammar schools

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The Independent Online

The war against the remaining 164 grammar schools in England and Wales will receive what could prove a mortal blow today when anti-selection campaigners in Kent give up their fight.

The war against the remaining 164 grammar schools in England and Wales will receive what could prove a mortal blow today when anti-selection campaigners in Kent give up their fight.

As David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, prepares to address the Labour Party conference tomorrow, the campaigners will accuse him of hypocrisy. They will argue that government rules for ballots on the future of grammar schools have made their task impossible.

Their decision is a setback for anti-selection campaigners across the country: Kent has more selective schools than any other area. Parents in Ripon decided earlier this year to keep their grammar school and campaigners elsewhere have struggled to collect enough signatures to trigger a ballot. Buckinghamshire parents, however, have just begun a campaign to end the 11-plus.

Becky Matthews, a Kent parent, will tell a conference fringe meeting organised by the Campaign for State Education, a parents' pressure group: "I want Mr Blunkett to tell us tomorrow why he has deliberately engineered a situation where a quarter of a million children in Kent continue to have their education blighted by the 11-plus.

"It would have been more honest for him to tell the world he had changed his mind, that he now supported the 11-plus. Instead, he gave us the appearance of a say in the way our children are educated, but made sure it was only the appearance."

Kent campaigners have to collect the signatures of about 46,000 parents to secure a ballot on the future of the county's 33 grammar schools. They tried and failed last year but announced only three weeks ago that they would try again.

Mr Blunkett reviewed the rules governing ballots in June and minor changes were announced earlier this month.

At the fringe meeting, the Labour peer Lord Hattersley will accuse the Prime Minister of continually denigrating comprehensive schools "often in language which suggests that he has no idea how non-selective schools are run".

He will remind delegates of Mr Blunkett's promise to a previous Labour conference that there would be "no selection by examination or interview" and will argue that "there is more selection now than there was on the day he became Secretary of State for Education."

The selection promise has caused controversy ever since it won a standing ovation. Mr Blunkett's advisers say that he meant "no more selection".

Two days after the Ripon ballot, Mr Blunkett described it as "a joke" but a few weeks later he described grammar schools as an anachronism that would eventually disappear.

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