Grammar school plans dropped

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The Independent Online
Ministers have backed away from plans to push through the introduction of new grammar schools, government officials admitted last night.

A leaked draft of the contents of a Bill to be published later this month shows that proposals to force discussions about full-scale selection wherever a new school is built have been dropped.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, will also have the right to step in and prevent schools from selecting a proportion of their pupils if it would leave some children without places.

Last night, Labour accused Mrs Shephard of taking a "two-faced" approach, telling her party's conference that she was pressing on with plans for more grammar schools while quietly allowing her officials to water them down.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said officials would consult local communities on what kinds of school they wanted.

"They will have to consider what's best in their view for the area ... Where the supply of school places is tight, selection could mean there would be some pupils who couldn't find a school place," he said.

A White Paper published in June said the agency which funds opted-out schools would be required to consider building grant-maintained grammar schools wherever extra places were needed. However, the measure is not mentioned in provisional proposals for the new Bill, which have been passed to The Independent.

The provisional proposals do say, however, that all schools must consider the case for introducing selection every year, and that would-be grammar schools will have the "right of appeal" if their local authorities try to block them.

Mrs Shephard told delegates at her party's Bournemouth conference on Thursday that the government wanted to encourage more grammar schools "in response to parental demand".

But, last night, a teachers' union leader said surveys showed that most parents did not want more grammar schools.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said ministers had clearly realised that plans for a grammar school in every town would not be popular. "Parents won't be keen on it," he said. "It is a very low priority."

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, said: "Gillian Shephard would appear to have been taking a two-faced approach. While assuring the Prime Minister that his plans for a grammar school in every town will be delivered, she has quietly got her officials to drop one of the key ways in which the Tories imagined that this might by delivered," he said.

A spokesman for the Funding Agency for Schools said it had asked parents for their views on selection when consulting on a new school in Epsom and Ewell, Surrey. It had been told emphatically that they were not interested.