MPs push for law change to see end to grammars

7th July 2000 at 01:00
AT least 20 Labour MPs are pressing the Government for a change of rules to make it easier to scrap England's last remaining 164 grammar schools.

The move - an early day motion in Parliament - comes as Education Secretary David Blunkett pledged to look at "anomalies" in the balloting process that gives parents the power to decide the fate of a grammar school.

He has refused to reduce the threshold - from at least 20 per cent of parents to 1 per cent - for the number of names needed to trigger a process that could ultimately end in abolition.

But Mr Blunkett has told MPs he is prepared to look at the technical requirements of the ballot process. A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said this was likely only to cover the number of names allowed on a single sheet of paper.

The rules surrounding the ballot are fraught with difficulties and impracticalities, anti-grammar school campaigners complain.And they vary between areas such as Kent - where there are selective schools across the county - and other parts of the country where there are few schools of this kind.

There are two kinds of ballots:

feeder-school ballots where the electorate may well extend beyond the education authority boundary. Eligible schools must have sent five or more pupils to the gramar school in the previous three years to qualify; and

area ballots where all parents get a vote, regardless of whether their child attends the school.

The early day motion was laid down by Stephen Ladyman, the Labour MP for South Thanet, who also called for the threshold to be cut. He said that areas such as Kent - where anti-grammar school campaigners must collect 45,000 signatures just to trigger a ballot - did not stand a chance.

Dr Ladyman urged Mr Blunkett to cut back on the amount of information that campaigners are expected to supply, such as the name of their child and the address of the school attended. He wanted councils also to release the names of parents eligible to vote.

Margaret Tulloch, from the Campaign for State Education, said a change in government attitude, such as encouraging teachers to speak out, would also help.

"The Government persists with the idea that this is not part of the big picture, that it is a little issue, but that is not true."

Meanwhile, Dr Ladyman attacked William Hague's plans to allow any school to become a grammar school as "nonsense".

"If you want to guarantee a sink school in every town in the country, then just follow his plan. His proposals are an abomination, they will lead to an education underclass," he said.

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