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Tories beat path to grammar boom

In the last few days of the general election campaign, TES writers explore the main parties' latest ideas on education

The Conservatives have revealed their strategy for introducing market forces into the school system should they win the election.

A further term of Conservative government would remove the control of local authorities over the extent to which schools can select their pupils and require councils to hand over ownership of buildings and sites.

The briefing document from the Number 10 Policy Unit says the Conservatives expect their reforms to lead to the creation of 200 grammars in the next five years. Schools that wish to select more than 20 per cent of pupils will be able to apply directly to the Education and Employment Secretary for a change of character.

Local authorities will be required to delegate to schools around 95 per cent of the education budget - which the Conservatives claim would mean an increase of around Pounds 170 per pupil for schools.

The paper makes clear the intention is to give schools control over their own affairs, with local authorities confined to a regulatory role.

It states: "The idea is that schools would become the providers of education, with full control over their budgets and their future development. Local education authorities would become the purchasers of education from schools and undertake a number of regulatory functions for education in their areas. "

The Conservatives expect the pressure for grammars to come from parents, who will be able to petition governors for a ballot on introducing selection. A new grammar schools foundation is to be established to provide help and advice to schools converting to grammar.

In support of the plans for grammars, Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, produced figures (left) that suggest that selective schools have an improving effect on non-selective schools in the area. They show, for example, that in Buckinghamshire, which has a selective system, the rate of improvement in GCSE results in the non-selective schools between 1993-96 has been 5 per cent, compared with a 4 cent improvement in secondaries nationally.

The figures are disputed by the local authorities who point out that in areas with grammars like Kent and Lincolnshire that rate of increase has been less than the national rate of improvement for non-selective schools.

The Campaign for State Education claims the figures fail to take account of the research by Clyde Chitty and Caroline Benn that suggests that overall achievement was lower in comprehensives in areas where there are grammars.

* Clear blue water, page 4

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