Parent group campaigns to ban 11-plus

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THE BATTLE over grammar schools, cause of some of the bitterest educational disputes since the war, begins again in earnest this week.

A national campaign, designed to use new legislation to end selection for secondary schools, starts on Saturday. The Campaign for State Education, a parents' pressure group, hopes to force at least some of the remaining 161 grammar schools to stop selecting pupils at 11.

New regulations to be announced shortly by the Government will allow parents to petition for a ballot over the future of the 11-plus and selective state schools.

Ministers have stopped short of abolishing grammar schools and said that they will leave it to parents to vote locally on their fate. They argue that it is more important to raise standards in all state schools than to worry about a few grammar schools.

Parents in parts of the country which retain grammar schools - including Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire, the Wirral and Birmingham - disagree. Already, action groups are forming both to support and to oppose selection.

In Kent, which has around a quarter of the remaining grammar schools, John Mayne is a member of the Stop the Eleven-Plus campaign. He remembers vividly his eldest daughter Sarah's disappointment when she failed the 11-plus. As friends at her Kent primary school talked eagerly about going to grammar school, she felt rejected and insecure.

Seven years later, after a successful career at a comprehensive school, including an A and two B grades at A-level, she has just begun a degree course in psychology at Southampton University.

Mr Mayne, whose second daughter, Emily, passed the exam, now regrets he put his children through the ordeal. "It remained a stain on her memory for some time and it could have knocked her confidence."

But Michael Noons, who has a daughter, Claire, at Tiffin Girls' Grammar School in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, feels equally strongly that bright pupils should be educated in selective schools.

He says: "Grammar schools are a way of educating these people to their full potential. I think people sometimes complain they are elitist because their children have not got in."

The opposition is also dusting down its arguments. Eric Hammond, the former trade union leader, is chairman of governors at Gravesend Grammar School and chairman of the Support Kent Schools campaign. "There is nothing socialist about opposing selection," he says "I speak as a Labour party member for 51 years. If you abandon grammar schools, there will be a mushrooming of fee-paying schools. Instead of selection by merit you will have selection by the purse."

Action groups will need to secure signatures of 20 per cent of "eligible parents" before a ballot can be held. In places which have only one or two grammar schools, those are expected to be defined as parents of pupils at state and private primary schools that regularly send children to the grammar schools. In areas such as Kent, all parents will have a vote.

In Birmingham, grammar schools are confident parents will back them. The city has eight, five of which belong to the King Edward VI Foundation. Its secretary, Dr Steven Grainger, says four MORI polls in the past decade have shown that 95 per cent of parents back grammars. "We can't all play football for England and people realise that," he says. "Children are more robust than we give them credit for."