Members of the Commons education select committee told education ministers David Miliband and Stephen Twigg that the Government had made it virtually impossible for parents to scrap the 11-plus in their area.
Under the ballot system introduced in 1998 parents can call for a vote to end selection at local schools. However, campaigners must collect signatures of more than 20 per cent of parents at feeder primaries to trigger a vote, so only one ballot has taken place. It was held in Ripon, North Yorkshire, where parents voted to retain the local grammar school.
Barry Sheerman, committee chairman and Labour MP for Huddersfield, said that evidence to the committee suggested that pupils performed worse overall in selective authorities. But the Government seemed unwilling to let the grammar schools close. "The Government has stacked the deck against anyone who wants change," he said.
Mr Miliband defended the ballots, saying it was important that decisions about such matters were made locally.
He also rejected the suggestion that parents should be able to vote against specialist schools that select 10 per cent of pupils by aptitude because the specialists had "less systemic impact" than grammar schools.
But Mr Miliband's arguments received short shrift from Mr Sheerman. "That's a bit lame, minister," he said.
The ministers were also quizzed about a league table produced by the National Audit Office, which puts exam performance into the context of challenges schools face. Mr Miliband said the Government had no plans to provide more tables like the Audit Office's but would create new tables to give a more rounded picture of schools.