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Two-tier fear over popularity pledge

John Major is likely to reinforce his promise next week to expand popular schools and close poor ones, writes Emma Burstall.

His comments are expected next Tuesday in a speech to Tory party faithful in Birmingham at the conclusion of a national tour.

Mr Major is understood to be keen to pump extra cash into popular schools to enable them to cope with parental demand, along the lines of a scheme soon to be introduced in Wales. Earlier this week, Welsh Secretary William Hague announced that 19 schools would share Pounds 23 million to supply 1,500 extra places. A new school would also be built in Mid Glamorgan.

In an interview with The Times last month, Mr Major signalled his support for the scheme when he said: "We have to find ways of allowing good schools to expand and of closing failed schools."

Critics, however, have expressed deep concern. Dr Anne West, director of research at the Centre for Educational Research, London School of Economics, said: "If the scheme is expanded into England, my fear is that instead of closing, unpopular schools will be allowed to crumble around the children and we will have a two-tiered system of education."

* The Welsh Secretary William Hague has approved an action plan to raise standards at a failing primary, Ysgol y Wern Primary School, Rhosllanerchrugog. The governors and Clwyd education authority had been given 40 days and 10 days respectively to produce a plan following an inspection of the school in February.

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