Boateng fuels Labour schools row

Paul Boateng, the MP for Brent South, yesterday become the latest Labour front-bencher to be revealed as choosing an opt-out school for his own child, amid a growing backbench discontent with the weakening of the party's opposition to grant-mainta ined schools.

In common with Tony Blair, the party leader, and other front-benchers, Mr Boateng and his wife have selected a school some way outside their own local authority area. Their daughter Charlotte, 11, was one of 180 pupils accepted to begin last September from around 600 applicants to Watford Girls' Grammar School, a good 10 miles from the London Borough of Brent.

Despite its title the school is a comprehensive, but one that has come near the top of last year's exam results league tables. And it has applied for Department for Education permission to become selective and pick pupils according to academic prowess. That probably angers the Labour rank and file more than anything else.

The Boateng disclosure will exacerbate Labour tensions which spilled over on Wednesday in a heated Westminster meeting when Roy Hattersley, the former deputy leader, and other MPs demanded that Labour revert to its former policy of scrapping grant-maintained schools.

Mr Blair's son Euan is to attend the grant-maintained Oratory School, west London, eight miles from his Islington home. MPs at the meeting left him in no doubt about mounting dismay over the softening of Labour's official stance, and heavily emphasised their opposition to selection.

Mr Boateng and the party declined to comment last night. Similar choices have been made by other prominent Labour politicians. Like the Blairs, Harriet Harman, employment spokeswoman, went outside her home area of Dulwich in choosing the London Oratory, for her son. Peter Kilfoyle, an education spokesman, is keeping his son Patrick, 13, at Liverpool's Blue Coat School, the voluntary-aided comprehensive that topped the exam tables, despite its application last December to become a grammar school.

Jack Straw, shadow Home Secretary, who lives in the formerly Labour-dominated London Borough of Lambeth, sent his son across the Thames to a school in Tory-controlled Westminster. Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking and former leader of Islington council, chose a comprehensive school in neighbouring Camden.