DAVID Blunkett has given his clearest support yet to parents fighting selection - just as his ballot rules forced the country's largest anti-selection campaign to suspend its battle.
Campaigners in Kent have discovered that they have two months less than expected to collect the 46,000 signatures needed to trigger a vote. With only 7,000 names so far, they have decided to halt the petition and start again in September - when they hope damning new evidence that Kent's grammar schools are under-performing will bolster their case.
The news comes as the Education Secretary admitted, after the Ripon Grammar School result was announced earlier this month, that the debate over selection could not be disentangled from his own standards agenda - an issue he had been criticised for ducking.
In a message of support to campaigners in Trafford, Greater Manchester, he said the Government opposed the 11-plus "because of the danger this anachronism ... brings to our agenda for raising standards and providing equal opportunity for all children.
"Whereas in many areas with single grammar schools they do not materially affect our agenda, in areas like Trafford there is a very different situation that disadvantages the majority of children."
His comments - issuedvia Trafford MPs and circulated only locally - stand in marked contrast to earlier pronouncements that selection was a "dead issue".
Brian Wills Pope, chair of the National Grammar Schools Association, said it was clear that there was no great opposition to selection and urged campaigners to accept defeat. But Stop the Eleven Plus spokeswoman Becky Matthews said: "We are not throwing in the towel. There is a lot of hard evidence about Kent's schools now for the first time - we have to get that out to parents and then hit the ground running in September."
That evidence includes testimony from Professor David Jesson of York University that the Government's own data and the Office for Standards in Education's own criteria show the county's grammar schools are under-performing.
Ripon CASE has appealed to Mr Blunkett over the result of their ballot, which they lost by two votes to one this month, saying pro-selection groups infringed the tight campaign regulations.
Mill Hill school, north London, has won a temporary reprieve after the High Court upheld its challenge to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator's ruling against its partial selection. The admissions watchdog must look again at the case.
Week in Education, 20