Local choice on new grammar schools

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Councils should be allowed to open new grammar schools, the Liberal Democrats agreed yesterday. Delegates passed a motion which would leave decisions on the future of selective schools to local communities. Some had argued that while authorities should be able to decide on the future of existing grammars, they should not be free to discuss the possibility of new ones.

The party remains opposed to wholesale plans for a grammar school in every town, which has been proposed by the Government. Its policy is in line with that of Labour, which would allow parents to vote on whether selection should continue where it already exists. Yesterday Patrick Short, chairman of the Liberal Democrats' education policy working group, said he would like to see selection ended immediately, but that the issue should be left open to debate. "I would campaign against any attempt to reintroduce selection. But I would defend to the end local people's rights to influence such decisions."

Delegates voted 308-299 for his view but several speakers opposed it. Stephanie Bailey, from Yeovil, Somerset, the constituency of Paddy Ashdown, the party leader, said Liberal Democrats should stand up for what they believed in. "This debate is about the reintroduction of grammar schools, a recipe for social division. We will not sanction a return to the past, in which young children are told they are failures at age 11.''