Friday, January 22, 1999 Published at 00:05 GMT
Getting rid of grammars could save money
The 11-plus exam would disappear if parents vote against grammars
By BBC News Online's Sean Coughlan
Closing grammar schools could save local authorities money, rather than cause extra expense as has been previously predicted.
The Conservative education spokesman, Damian Green, has forecast that it would cost £0.5bn to close grammar schools across England, spending that he condemned as a "scandalous waste".
But a survey of local authorities with grammar schools carried out by BBC News Online shows little evidence of such a large expense for ending selection.
Mr Green's figure is a projection based on the estimated cost of closing grammar schools in Kent, but a survey of local authorities shows that in terms of the re-organisation required, Kent is the exception rather than the rule.
While Kent says that it could cost £150m to close its 33 grammar schools, in the neighbouring authority of Medway, the education authority says that there will be no extra expense and there could be possible savings in having a single system.
Buckinghamshire, which has 13 grammar schools, says that there might be a slight initial expense, but the authority does not anticipate an expensive upheaval if it were forced to end selection.
Savings on school transport, as grammar school intakes are more widely spread, could mean reduced rather than increased spending in Essex, if grammar school status ended. But the authority says it is expecting no overall difference in cost.
In Warwickshire, the education authority says that if parents vote to end grammar school status it will not be likely to mean substantial costs.
But Mr Green stands by his figures, which he say reflects the expenditure necessary to ensure that comprehensive schools of sufficient size replace grammars.
If schools are simply "rebadged" as non-selective, he says the changeover will be cheaper, but educational standards will suffer in the process. According to Mr Green, only seven of the remaining grammar schools are large enough to transfer directly into the comprehensive system.
The estimates for Kent, which are themselves claimed as exaggerated by anti-grammar school campaigners, are based on the need for a fundamental re-allocation of school places if grammars are abolished, involving new buildings and school amalgamations.
But many grammars around the country are in authorities which are largely non-selective and the impact of a change of status will only be marginal.
For example in Lancashire there are four grammars out of 90 secondary schools, with these four already holding opted-out grant-maintained status. As such, the authority says it is not expecting any substantial organisational changes.
'Dogma over pragmatism'
The arguments over the future of grammars are set to run throughout this year, as legislation passed by the government allows parents to hold local ballots on the future of grammar schools.
The closure of grammars would be "dogma against pragmatism", the Conservatives argue, saying that the ballots will be an unnecessary and politically-motivated attack on successful schools.
But the Campaign for State Education, which is running a 'Say No to Selection' campaign, says that any initial costs are worth the effort to create what they believe to be a fairer system.
The campaign's spokeswoman, Margaret Tulloch, rejected the Conservatives' claims on the expense of changing systems, saying that no accurate figures existed for the cost of re-organisation.
If there were expenses, she said that government should step in to assist local authorities and ensure that the money did not come from existing education budgets.