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Heads say grammar schools will survive

Government suspected of making abolition of sector deliberately difficult. Frances Rafferty and Julie Read report on the results of a TES survey

The majority of grammar-school headteachers believe they will survive the Government's plans to allow parents to vote them out of existence, a TES survey has revealed.

Some suggested the process has been made deliberately difficult to prevent the disappearance of grammar schools. "Labour has made the regulations so complicated it will put people off. It doesn't want to be seen as the Government that destroyed the grammar school," said one.

Roger Hale, head of Caistor grammar, Lincolnshire, said: "It would have been possible for the Government to have created regulations which were much more threatening to grammar schools."

The regulations for the petitions and ballots, fulfilling the Government's election manifesto, are now out for consultation.

The survey of more than half the heads of the 161 grammars found that three quarters believe not all schools would survive the ballots, which will be triggered when 20 per cent of parents eligible to vote sign a petition.

Heads in areas with large numbers of grammars - for example Kent, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire - said they felt secure, but feared for the future of more isolated schools. One West Country head predicted 20 per cent of grammars may go.

The heads surveyed said grammar schools are still popular with parents. In Birmingham, where the authority has twice attempted to end selection, one had 1,400 boys sitting its entrance exam.

Monika Curtis, head of Chelmsford county high for girls, said: "If you removed grammars more people will buy out of the state sector and that would remove a lot of influential and articulate people who can be a good influence to improve the state sector."

Anti-selection groups are already mobilising. A quarter of heads said they had heard of local groups forming. The most active is the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education. Local teacher union branches, Labour and Lib Dem supporters are also getting organised to lobby parents.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said "Our party policy is that selection has no place in the modern education system. But where grammars exist, their future should be determined by a democratically elected local education authority. I am sure where ballots are called, local Liberal Democrats will be supporting the campaign to do away with selection."

The survey revealed heads were concerned that the campaigns for ballots would be hijacked by political activists and could result in the bitter battles seen during the ballots for schools to opt out.

Heads said the Government's promotion of specialist schools and its proposed "master" classes for bright pupils flew in the face of allowing the end of grammars.

* Survey results, pages 10, 11

* Leader, page 16

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