The White Paper, designed to end 30 years of comprehensive education and fulfil the Prime Minister's wish for a grammar school in every town, will go much further than expected in promoting selective schools.
Grant-maintained schools (opted-out of council control) will be allowed to select up to 50 per cent of their pupils without reference to the Secretary of State for Education. The present limit is 10 per cent.
The details have still to go through the Cabinet, but Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, is thought to have won the Prime Minister's approval.
Ministers are determined to fight the next election as the party which backs grammar schools. Though Tony Blair, the Labour leader, supported streaming last week, he rejected an extension of selective schools.
At present, there are 160 state grammar schools, many of them concentrated in areas such as Kent and Buckinghamshire. The Prime Minister wants a wider spread. Under Mrs Shephard's proposals, the Government could step in when a local council wanted to open a new school and, therefore, needed to consult locally. If parents and the local community said that they wanted a grammar school, the Secretary of State could insist on the new school being selective even if the local authority wanted it to be comprehensive.
In local authorities where more than 10 per cent of pupils are in grant- maintained schools - nearly half - the Funding Agency for Schools, a quango, can also put forward proposals for new schools. In these cases, the Secretary of State can already demand a grammar school.
The proposals for grant-maintained schools - there are 644 in England, about a fifth of the total - are likely to cause particular controversy. Kenneth Baker said, when he introduced opting-out in 1988, that it did not herald a return to selection.
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