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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
The remaining grammar schools
ripon grammar school
Ripon Grammar School survived a challenge to selection
The ending of selective secondary education in Northern Ireland - recommended by the Burns inquiry - would leave only pockets in England in which children still take the 11-plus exam.

I hope that this will spur the government to look again at the situation in England

Anti-selection campaigner Margaret Tulloch
Campaigners against the 11-plus say the Northern Ireland report should be followed by a similar official inquiry in England.

The Department for Education and Skills said it was for parents to decide.

There are 164 remaining grammar schools in England, out of about 5,000 secondary schools. There are none in Wales or in Scotland.

Ballots

Those who object to the 11-plus had high hopes that the Labour government elected in 1997 would abolish selection.

They pinned their hopes on something the new education secretary, David Blunkett, had said at a party conference two years earlier: "Watch my lips: No selection, either by examination or interview, under a Labour government."

What happened, however, is that the new administration introduced regulations under which local ballots of parents can determine whether or not schools remain selective.

Before such a vote is held, a petition has to be gathered with enough parents' names to trigger the ballot - with the number needed decided by a complex formula laid down by the government.

So far campaigners against grammar schools have managed to gather enough names to trigger only one ballot - in which parents voted for Ripon Grammar School in North Yorkshire to retain its status.

Rule change

The campaigners say the system is stacked against them.

They feel their immediate best hope now is to lobby ministers for a change in the regulations to be included in the forthcoming Education Bill, though there is no sign of that happening.

The Burns report in Northern Ireland said: "We have been left in no doubt that the Eleven-Plus Transfer Tests are socially divisive, damage self-esteem, place unreasonable pressures on pupils, primary teachers and parents, disrupt teaching and learning at an important stage in the primary curriculum and reinforce inequality of opportunity."

This is music to the ears of Margaret Tulloch of the Campaign for State Education in England.

'Tortuous'

"I hope that this will spur the government to look again at the situation in England, where change can only come about as a result of either governing bodies of grammar schools deciding to change, or through a tortuous and almost impossible procedure of petitioning and balloting," she said.

"One of the main concerns is the effect on the children, but that doesn't seem to be making any impact on the government. We tend to forget how over-tested children are."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "We believe that parents are best placed to make decisions about the future of selection at existing grammar schools."

There are 10 education authorities in which 20% or more of the secondary school places are selective: Bexley, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Medway Towns, Slough, Southend, Sutton, Torbay and Trafford.

There are a further 26 areas with groups of grammar schools. And there are 12 schools which are on their own in an area - such as Ripon.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  BBC NI's Maggie Taggart reports
"11-plus is condemned as divisive and disruptive"
See also:

24 Oct 01 | N Ireland
17 Jan 01 | N Ireland
31 Mar 01 | N Ireland
27 Jul 01 | Education
25 Sep 00 | Education
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