Parents vote for oldest grammar to stay selective

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The Independent Online

Pro-grammar school campaigners celebrated victory last night after decisively defeating their opponents in the first parental ballot to be held under new legislation.

Pro-grammar school campaigners celebrated victory last night after decisively defeating their opponents in the first parental ballot to be held under new legislation.

Ripon Grammar School, which claims to be the oldest in the country and which William Hague attended briefly, will survive after two-thirds of local parents voted to keep it. The turnout was 75 per cent.

The result is a blow for anti-selection campaigners throughout England. Parents in areas served by more than 50 of the remaining 164 grammar schools are trying to collect enough signatures to trigger ballots. They include Trafford, Kent, Sutton, Birmingham and Barnet.

The Government, which has tried to placate middle class supporters by playing down the importance of grammar schools, will be relieved by the result. While ministers have said that they oppose more selection, they have handed over decisions about the future of grammar schools to local parents.

Ripon was thought to be the easiest target for opponents of grammar schools. Twenty per cent of eligible parents must sign a petition to trigger a ballot. The town has one grammar school and one secondary modern and just 600 signatures were needed. In Kent, by contrast, where there are 33 grammar schools, 46,000 signatures will be required.

Anti-grammar school campaigners in Ripon will appeal over the conduct of the ballot and over a video which was sent to all parents by their opponents. They also say that voting rules have given a disproportionate influence to parents of private school pupils.

Mr Alan Jones, head of the grammar school, said he was delighted by the vote of confidence in Ripon's two secondary schools. "Add to the numbers of primary school parents who voted the 2,000 or so parents who happily send their children to our two schools, but who were denied a vote, and I believe that you would then have an accurate indication of the real confidence which Ripon has in us."

* GCSE exams for 16-year-olds should be abandoned to encourage more pupils to stay on at school, a headteachers' leader said yesterday.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said he expected that main exams at the age of 16 would disappear. He added: "If we move over the next five years towards a post-14 qualifications structure, rather than a sharp division between pre and post-16, then clearly what you do at 16 is not going to be seen as the end point and that is welcome."

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