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GM head fears 'halfway house'

After studying Labour's education proposals, Roy Pike, head of the opted-out Torquay Boys' Grammar school, has no doubts. "I fear what we are seeing is a halfway house: a policy for people to vote for and a method of abolishing GM and grammar schools without too much conflict or debate."

The idea of a vote by local parents to determine whether selective education should continue offers few fears for Mr Pike, who is confident of the reputation of his school and its high regard in the community. But if a future Labour government were to make a more determined assault on grammar school education, then the portents would not be so rosy.

Mr Pike sees Labour's proposals for maintained schools as a more serious threat. The return of 10 per cent of the school's funding to the LEA will cost him Pounds 220,000. He fears it will be money taken from his pupils and lost in an administrative black hole.

The grammar schools' market research which shows a positive response to the school is echoed by Norman Fry, head of nearby Torre voluntary-aided primary school, who believes the grammar school would comfortably survive any ballot.

"If there was a referendum," he said, "parents would vote to keep it. For all the reasons that we in education might quote where selective education is bad, there is this parental myth that it is automatically better for a child to go to a selective school."

The system creates an administrative headache for Mr Fry. His Year 6 pupils will in September head for one of five secondary schools. Some of the boys will have taken two 11-plus examinations - one for Torquay Grammar and the other for local education authority grammar schools. Then there is a bilateral school, which is a secondary modern but with a selective stream. Two comprehensives take the rest.

Unless, of course, parents opted not to enter the selective system, in which case they can apply to a popular voluntary-aided comprehensive, where places are limited. Then if all else fails some parents will decide to send their child to nearby Newton Abbot, which has a full comprehensive system.

Mr Fry said: "If you were starting with a blank piece of paper there's no way you'd devise a system like this."

* A MORI poll commissioned by the King Edward's Foundation in Birmingham in 1992 found a large majority believed parents should have the option of entering their children for entrance examinations to the five grammar schools.

The survey involved 544 people, and a booster sample of 129 parents with children under the age of 12.

Seventy-three per cent said they strongly agreed that parents should have the choice of entering their children for the tests, and a further 22 per cent said they agreed or tended to agree.

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