Local ballots will seal grammar schools' fate

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT yesterday paved the way for the end of selective education after MPs approved regulations putting the future of the remaining grammar schools in the hands of local communities.

A Commons committee approved by nine votes to five the regulations for the local ballots which are intended to meet Labour's election manifesto commitment to allow parents to decide the admission policy of grammar school.

But the Tories immediately said the plans would "rig" the vote in favour of abolishing grammar schools.

The issue is likely to dominate local politics before the next election. The first votes on turning 166 grammar schools into comprehensives could take place next September. Any resulting change in admission policy would take effect from September 2001.

The new regulations will allow pro-comprehensive campaigners to achieve their objective if they can secure the signatures of 20 per cent of eligible parents on local petitions to trigger a ballot.

Damien Green, the shadow Schools Minister, led the Conservative onslaught during the debate claiming that it was unfair on parents that the ballot papers would not include the phrase "grammar school".

Parents will asked if they were in favour "of all the schools listed introducing admission arrangements which admit children of all abilities". Many parents would not realise the implications of a vote, he said.

Phil Willis, a Liberal Democrat education spokesman, also criticised the detailed rules, branding them "a dog's dinner". Estelle Morris, the schools standards minister, said his suggestion was "patronising" and pointed to the rules stating that the schools affected would have to named on the ballot papers.

The Government argued that parents would be well aware of the issues at stake during local campaigns that were likely to precede any ballot and added that the ballot question was approved by the Electoral Reform Society.