Grammar respite as ballot bid founders

Bilston's back Readers respond to last week's revelations II New brooms Businessmen sweep the board in learning and skills councils II Adult edgy Pre exam nerves for grown-ups III By Francis Beckett BRITAIN'S 164 grammar schools are safe - at least for the next year - as campaigners on the last remaining anti-selection battle say they are giving up the attempt to force a ballot.

Campaigners in Trafford, Manchester, announced today that they have failed to get the signatures of the 20 per cent of eligible parents needed to trigger the ballot by the July 31 deadline.

Campaigns to scrap grammar schools have failed in Ripon (where the vote was lost) and Kent (where not enough signatures were collected) amid claims that the Government had rigged the system so that they were bound to fail.

Dr Malcolm Clarke, a parent who chairs the local Labour party, said activists in Trafford were defeated by the unfairness of the system.

He said: "The Government was committed to handing decisions on the future of the 11-plus to parents. But they then invented a system so biased in favour of keeping it that, one by one, locl campaigns were forced to give up the unequal struggle, until the only one left was here in Trafford."

He said they had got more than 15 per cent of eligible parents to sign a petition, but it was not enough. If the campaigners decide to try again, they will have to start from scratch as the petition will not be valid for next year.

Dr Clarke said the anti-grammar group had spent most of its time trying to identify and then contact the electorate. Lists of parents from a school could only be obtained if requested by someone whose child attended. This meant having to identify a sympathiser in each of Trafford's 120 schools.

When interpretations of the regulations were required, Dr Clarke claimed the Department for Education and Employment invariably gave an interpretation which was helpful to the pro-grammar school lobby and handicapped the anti selection lobby.

In an article in this week's New Statesman, he says he and his supporters feel betrayed by the Government. "Tony Blair demanded, David Blunkett acquiesced, Stephen Byers constructed, and Estelle Morris supervised a cynical betrayal."

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