Grammar school ballots `are unfair'

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The Independent Online
PARENTS FROM the poorest and smallest schools will be disenfranchised in ballots on the future of grammar schools, according to new evidence.

Local authorities argue that new rules giving parents a vote on the 166 remaining grammar schools to be debated in the House of Lords today are unfair and undemocratic.

Anti-selection campaigners say the rules are "either a cock-up or a conspiracy to ensure grammar schools continue". Ministers say they are the only way to resolve a highly contentious issue.

In areas where there are just one or two grammar schools and the majority of children go to comprehensives, only parents at schools that have sent at least five children there over the past three years will receive votes. All parents in places where there is a network of grammar schools will have votes.

A survey carried out for Calderdale council reveals that parents at 26 of the 83 schools would have no vote, including half Halifax's Asian primary school parents and two-thirds of those from schools that serve The Ridings comprehensive, the former failing school.

By contrast, parents from two private schools and two schools outside the area would have a say. David Helliwell, a businessman and former Labour councillor who carried out the survey, examined how many children had been admitted to the two grammar schools from each primary school in the past three years.

"This is not about education, it is about democracy and a drift to a new fascism," he said. "I am a Labour Party member but the Government is disenfranchising the very people it is supposed to represent. Asians and poor whites are left out while middle-class dissenters from state education along with parents from pushy schools elsewhere are included."

He pointed out that as many as one-fifth of children at the disqualified schools were taking the entrance test for the grammar schools though few were successful. In its submission to the Government, Cumbria County Council argues that parents in the smallest primary schools will be disenfranchised because they have only two or three pupils in each year group. "This is illogical," it says.

David Williams, the council's deputy director of education, said: "The grammar school in Penrith has the largest catchment area in England. Five or six of the 20 primary schools it serves have only 20 or 30 pupils. They are clearly feeder schools but it is quite possible their parents won't have a vote."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said there was no question of the rules being designed to help either supporters or opponents of grammar schools.

"There are strong views on both sides," she said. "We had to reach a conclusion which we felt was the most workable, consistent and fair. We are trying to give parents choices where this is at all possible."

Baroness Blatch, the Conservatives' education spokeswoman in the Lords, said she feared that all grammar schools were in danger.

"There is absolutely no logic in the voting arrangements," she said. "Parents of children in grammar schools should have a vote as well as those in feeder schools."