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Monday, February 8, 1999 Published at 17:23 GMT


Parents left out of grammar ballots

A fifth of all eligible parents must sign a petition to trigger a ballot

BBC Education Correspondent Mike Baker reports that thousands of parents who live close to grammar schools could be denied a vote in any ballot to determine their future.

Listen to Mike Baker's report
Campaigners opposed to selection have written to the Schools Minister, Estelle Morris, pointing out that, in the two areas where the first moves towards ballots have begun, parents of children at many local state schools will not have a vote - while parents at private schools many miles away will be able to vote.

Campaigners are now alleging that the government has deliberately made the process so cumbersome that it is almost impossible to hold any ballots at all.

Queen Elizabeth Boys Grammar school in Barnet, north London, is preparing to fight for its survival. Its headteacher, Eamon Harris, fears the destruction of a vital educational asset.

"For children who are particularly able academically, they will not thrive unless there is some mechanism to secure their motivation," he said.

"If those children are sent to a school where that will not be attended to, then those children will not perform to their best, they will not be fulfilled, and society will be poorer."

[ image: Many grammar schools select pupils on the basis of tests sat at age 11 or 12]
Many grammar schools select pupils on the basis of tests sat at age 11 or 12
To trigger a ballot, parents must collect a petition containing the signatures of 20% of eligible parents.

In half the areas with grammar schools, all parents will get a vote. But in the rest, parents will only be eligible if they have a child at a "feeder" school - one that has sent five or more children to the grammar school in the last three years.

In Barnet, it has just emerged that only one third of the borough's state primary schools are defined as feeder schools. Yet some 15 private schools outside the borough are eligible.

Jenny Brown, of the Barnet Parent Foundation, said: "We're talking about most of north London having some parents who can vote about an issue which affects us.

"We're living with the issue and yet only a third of our parents have a right to sign the petition and vote."

Parents at local primary schools are only just realising that they will get no say in any petition or ballot.

"I think it's son's education is as important as anybody else's," said one.

No ballots until 2000

We contacted four private schools where parents will get the vote, but none would speak to us.

So far, parents in only two areas of the country - Barnet and Ripon - have registered to hold petitions. In both cases, they feel the odds are stacked against them.

It is now clear that the administrative problems mean there will be no petitions anywhere before September, which means ballots are unlikely until this time next year at the earliest.

Many opponents of selective education believe this is just what the government wanted.

They say ministers can now tell the left-wing of their party that they have made it possible to end selection but, in reality, the process is so bureaucratic and complex that very little will happen.

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The Education (Grammar School Ballots) Regulations 1998

Campaign for State Education - 'Say no to selection'

Parents' Alliance for Choice in Education (Trafford)

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