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Tories to announce grammar expansion

The Conservatives are planning to upstage Labour on education by announcing measures to promote the expansion of schools that want to become grammars.

Gillian Shephard is expected to announce that a future Conservative government would gauge parental support for changing the admission arrangements of over-subscribed schools.

The details are likely next week, but Conservative strategists believe that backing for a new generation of grammars would provide a platform for an attack on Labour. Schools that expand receive extra funding based on their number.

The Conservatives also propose to revive sections of the Education Bill that had to be dropped in the final days of the last government. School governing bodies would be required to consider annnually whether to introduce a greater degree of selection. Local authorities would be prevented from blocking applications from schools to become grammars.

The concentration on selection allows the Conservatives to point to the decision of Labour front-bencher Harriet Harman to send her son to a grammar.

The Education Bill being planned by Labour would create the framework needed to set up the foundation schools that would replace the grant-maintained sector.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, has plans for substantial legislation to bring about changes in the system. Labour wants to abolish nursery vouchers, to abolish grant-maintained schools and restructure the system to form community, aided and foundation sectors, and to reform the student loan system.

Should Labour win, a White Paper is likely in the first few months, followed by legislation in the autumn. Labour would abolish the category of GM schools, but those that chose to become foundation schools would have greater freedom over admissions than community schools.

Governing bodies of foundation schools would have to consult their local authority on the procedure for admitting pupils. Where agreement could not be reached, the school and LEA would be required to abide by the decision of an independent arbitrator. Foundation schools would have to accept two governors appointed by the local authority.

Shephard and Blunkett interviews, pages 10-11

Discipline legislation page 14

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