The claim was made by Ann Taylor, Labour's education spokeswoman, in reaction to the publication yesterday of draft education department guidelines on new self- governing grant-maintained schools.
Grant-maintained schools, which opt out of local authority control and receive their funds directly from Whitehall, can be set up by 'promotors' made up of parents, religious groups, groups promoting areas such technology, or groups with business links.
Robin Squire, the education minister, said yesterday: 'Promoters may propose different types of schools. For example, new grant- maintained schools may be selective, or have partial selection. They could be single sex or have a single- sex stream.'
Mrs Taylor said that the guidelines were part of 'Mr Patten's hidden agenda to reintroduce selective education'.
She added: 'In an attempt to minimise opposition, Mr Patten has sneaked out the announcement in the parliamentary recess. He didn't even have the guts to stand up in the House of Commons and declare his policy.'
She said selective education favours a minority of pupils at the expense of the majority and labels children not in the best schools as failures. She asked, 'How does that two-tier system fit into John Major's classless society?'
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