Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, is planning to add a clause to her Education Bill reinforcing the ban on comprehensive schools selecting pupils for their ability in basic subjects like maths and English.
The new clause would make no difference to how children are taught. It would simply say that rules which apply in schools run by local education authorities would also apply in the semi-independent "trust" schools that the new legislation will bring into existence.
But it would provoke a political row with the Conservatives - which is what education ministers want, to force the Tories into open opposition and reunite a deeply divided Labour Party.
Mrs Kelly, who has an intensive schedule of one-to-one meetings with potential Labour rebels, has said privately that she would "love" to engineer a situation in which David Cameron was forced to break his promise to back the reforms set set out in a Government White Paper published last month.
State schools can choose up to 10 per cent of pupils on aptitude for sport or music, but not for subjects in the basic curriculum. The Tories want to give wider freedom to select by ability.
Yesterday's publication of a Commons select committee report was accompanied by a "minority report" from Tory members of the committee, who wrote: "We believe the Government should have the courage of its own convictions and keep to the word of the White Paper."
Privately, ministers agree that there are not enough Labour MPs ready to back the Bill to get it through the House of Commons without Tory support.Reuse content