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Protest at grammar voting exclusions

Anti-selection campaigners are lobbying against a move to bar parents of pupils in small primaries from the ballot box. Nadene Ghouri reports.

PARENTS with children in small primaries will not get a chance to vote on the future of grammar schools, say anti-selection campaigners.

With the contests in many areas finely poised they fear the anomaly which affects 200,000 parents could sway the balance in favour of grammars. They have called for a change in the voting rules - due to be debated by Parliament this week.

Under the proposed rules, only the parents of children at a school which has sent at least five pupils to a grammar school in the previous year will be able to petition for a ballot or vote in one.

The National Association for Primary Education says the five-pupil rule excludes parents of children attending small primary schools, some of which may only see one or two pupils leave for secondary school each year.

(The only exceptions are in 10 specially-selected local authorities where all parents get a vote.) NAPE says around 2,000 small schools could be affected in the areas where grammars remain. Rural areas such as North Yorkshire, Kingston and Gloucestershire will be worst hit.

John Coe of NAPE said: "Their votes ought to be decisive. We want to see selection end, as we think do the majority of primary schoolteachers and parents."

Mr Coe said: "In Kingston you have an influx of children coming across the boundaries into Kingston's grammar schools. Parents in the surrounding rural areas can't get their children into these schools even if they wanted to. However, under the five-pupil rule, half of these parents, who live two minutes away from what should be their local school won't even get a say in what type of schooling the area gets. It's really unfair."

The Campaign for State Education, which is leading the fight against grammar schools, has written to David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, calling for a change in the voting regulations.

Margaret Tulloch, the campaign's spokeswoman, said: "These numbers could be crucial in deciding the final outcome, and the Government knows that."

RULES OF THE GRAMMAR BALLOT * A petition of at least 20 per cent of eligible parents at relevant schools is needed to trigger a ballot.

* Ballots will be county or borough wide in 10 local education authorities. All parents in the area will be able to vote, including those whose children are in private schools. Parents may also register if they have children in schools outside the area or have children aged under five not at school.

* More than half of grammar schools are outside these local authority areas. Here parents with children in feeder schools which have sent five or more children to the school in the past three years, will have a vote. Parents with children at the grammars will not.

* A petition concerning a boys' school will have to include the neighbouring girls' school. Any ballot will cover both schools. Only parents from feeder schools will have a vote.

* Once a vote is taken, no further ballots on the future of a school may take place within five years.

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