Wednesday, November 18, 1998 Published at 08:45 GMT
Parents to decide fate of grammar schools
Damian Green: "The schools are not being treated fairly"
New regulations which could spell the end for many of the 166 remaining grammar schools in England have been approved by a committee of MPs.
Produced by the Department for Education and Employment, they set out how parents can vote on turning local selective schools into comprehensives.
Under the regulations, a vote will take place if 20% of parents sign a petition calling for a ballot on whether a grammar school should become comprehensive.
The parents entitled to vote will include those with children at primary schools which have sent more than five pupils to the grammar school in the past three years.
The Conservatives accused the government of attempting to abolish grammar schools with "rigged" ballots.
Tory Education Spokesman Damian Green attacked ministers' refusal to include the words "grammar schools" on the proposed ballot papers.
Instead, parents will face the following question: "Are you in favour of all the schools listed introducing admission arrangements which admit children of all abilities?"
Mr Green said: "The government knows that making it clear that these referendums could lead to the abolition of good grammar schools would make parents more likely to vote against, so they have devised a rigged question.
"In this, once again, they show that they cannot trust people to take their own decisions."
'Clear as anything'
The School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, denied that the ballots were being rigged to undermine remaining grammar schools.
"When parents come to vote, on the paper before them will be listed the school by name," she said.
"I think that is a clear as anything and I don't think parents will be confused by that at all."
The new regulations were not an attempt by Labour to frustrate parents' efforts to keep local grammar schools open, she said.
"Labour is happy for parents to make the choice."
Mr Green's criticisms of the government's policy on grammar school ballots directly contrast with those of Lord Hattersley.
Last week, the former deputy leader of the Labour Party accused the government of adopting an "absurd" approach to the future of grammar schools.
In a House of Lords debate, Lord Hattersley claimed that the rules for local ballots had been made deliberately complex to deter parents from attempting to change their status.
Lord Hattersley has been prominent in a campaign to turn the remaining grammar schools in England into comprehensives. Called 'Say no to selection', it is being run by the Campaign for State Education.
While there are no state grammars in Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland has retained a fully selective grammar school system.