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Grammar school idea 'forced through'

Tory leaders in Buckinghamshire are determined to press ahead with controversial plans to bring selective secondary education to Milton Keynes, a leaked letter reveals.

But according to one disaffected former Conservative, the decision to build a grammar school in the town was forced through the council despite the misgivings of some members.

Peter Mullins, a former Tory councillor who regrets voting with the party line and now sits as an independent, is calling for the grammar school application, currently awaiting approval from the Department of Education and Employment, to be withdrawn.

"I am not opposed to grammar schools per se," he said. "I am opposed to the authority, in its dying days, seeking to inflict a grammar school on another authority which should be deciding such issues for itself."

His remarks - opposed by party leaders - have fuelled the row over plans to extend Buckinghamshire's selective system into Milton Keynes before the city becomes a unitary authority in 1997.

An attempt by the Labour-controlled borough council to win a judicial review of the decision was to be have been heard at the Court of Appeal this week, but was postponed because of a lack of court time.

The TES has seen a confidential letter sent by county council chairman Ken Ross to Tory councillors in March last year, indicating his determination to press ahead with the grammar school. The letter claims that any desire to foster good relations with the new neighbouring authority "will not make one iota of difference after April 1997 when they will literally turn their backs on Buckinghamshire".

It adds: "We would by then have lost any chance we had of making some attempt to take a grammar school into Milton Keynes."

Another letter, dated last November, warns that members who fail to support the agreed party line "have to understand they will lose the confidence of their colleagues and accept the consequences."

This week Mr Ross declined to comment on the first letter, other than to say that there was now a much closer working relationship with the borough council.

He also denied that councillors were put under undue pressure to approve the grammar school.

"We Conservatives are in a small majority and it is the policy of the party to provide grammar school places," he said, adding: "There were no bully boy tactics. In the final analysis it was an individual decision for members. "

Mr Mullins supports his allegation by pointing to the fact the Tory group was previously split on the issue. Some members were worried about the financial implications, and others were unwilling to bequeath selective education to a unitary authority hostile to the idea.

His motion to withdraw the application has already been rejected by the education committee and the policy and resources committee. It goes before the full council on May 16, two days after the first meeting of the newly-elected Milton Keynes shadow authority.

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