Specialist schools' ability to select pupils by aptitude is likely to be scrapped after ministers performed a U-turn under pressure from Labour activists and MPs.
Stephen Twigg, education minister, said the Government is ready to launch a review of the policy and admitted that he found it difficult to argue in favour of it.
Specialist schools are allowed to select up to 10 per cent of pupils according to aptitude. Selection by ability is forbidden.
Mr Twigg conceded there is little difference between selection by ability and aptitude in academic subjects such as technology.
But music and sports colleges may be allowed to continue to select, after Mr Twigg said it was possible to have a "kind of natural aptitude" for the subjects.
The concession was made at Labour's national policy forum last weekend in a successful bid to head-off a call for the Government to make it easier to get rid of grammar schools.
It follows accusations from a hard-hitting education select committee report which said that the Government had allowed selection to increase despite official opposition to the policy.
Ministers also fought off an attempt to strip academies of the power to set admissions policies after promising to ensure they follow official guidelines.
Margaret Tulloch, secretary of Comprehensive Future, a Labour pressure group committed to ending selection, said she was disappointed the Government had resisted moves to abolish grammars.
Labour's five-year strategy, which was published earlier this month, promised to make it easier for secondary schools to take control of their own admissions policy. Critics have warned that this, combined with the pledge to make all secondary schools specialist, could lead to a sharp increase in selection.
The Government estimates that less than 6 per cent select by aptitude, suggesting that up to 117 may use this form of selection.
However this estimate has been used for more than two years, even though the number of specialist schools has risen dramatically during that period.
The Labour leadership also defeated calls from local government leaders to reverse their decision to ring fence school budgets.