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Parents let rip in Ripon

The first grammar set to face a ballot over its selective status is confident. Jane Czyzselska and Clare Dean report on the growing debate.

RIPON grammar, the first school likely to face a ballot that could end its selective status, is confident that it will win the battle.

Anti-selection campaigners in Ripon, Yorkshire, have gathered 587 signatures - the 20 per cent of eligible parents needed to trigger a vote. Victory in the vote would mean the 450-year-old school scrapping its 11-plus exam from September 2002, and admitting pupils of all abilities.

Ripon head Alan Jones says his school, and the secondary modern Ripon college across the road, want to maintain the status quo.

He said: "We believe that our two schools and their differing but complementary ways should continue to co-exist."

John Warren, spokesperson for the Ripon Selective Schools Partnership, said:

"We don't think they (the campaigners) will win because there is enormous support for the status quo. We have good schools in Ripon, why change?"

The Ripon Campaign for State Education, which pressed for the ballot, has been criticised over its "doorstepping" methods.

Mr Warren claimed some parents, asked to sign the petition, felt they had been misled. "We heard that a couple signed the petition thinking that they had to sign it to qualify for a vote. We have been asked by the Department for Education and Employment to hand over statements from parents who feel they signed erroneously."

Ripon CASE defended their campaigning methods: "We produced a leaflet in line with DFEE guidance which fully explains the ballot proedure," said a spokeswoman.

Debbie Atkins sends her two teenage daughters to a Harrogate comprehensive. She said: "I wanted to keep my kids in Ripon schools. However, neither the (Ripon) college nor the grammar have a broad and balanced curriculum. Many other parents are sending their kids out of Ripon and, as a result, they are vying for places in other schools by trying to escape the selective system here."

The Electoral Reform Ballot Society is now checking that all signatures are valid before a vote is approved.

Sir Robert Balchin, a member of the Conservative party's grammar school task force, said: "If Ripon grammar goes, it could be the beginning of a rolling programme of grammar-school abolitions in danger-spot areas, such as the Midlands and north Kent."

Almost a fifth of Birmingham's headteachers have come out publicly in favour of moves to abolish the city's grammar schools, including the five in the King Edward VI foundation.

The heads - from 20 secondaries and 68 primaries - have signed a statement saying they are convinced that a fully comprehensive system would be in the best interests of all.

The list, drawn up by the Birmingham branch of CASE, said not one of the 513 city heads had voiced support for grammar schools.

It had not expected comments from the grammar schools themselves but was surprised by the large number of heads who simply failed to reply.

Only parents of primary

children would be eligible to vote in a ballot on the future of grammar schools in the city. It is not expected that a petition will be raised this year requesting the ballot.

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