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Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK


Battle lines drawn up over grammar schools

Ballots over grammar schools could take place next year

The campaigns for and against the scrapping of grammar schools are stepping up in Kent.

The Conservative-led council, which supports the selective system, is seeking to streamline the admissions process for grammar schools - while the anti-selection campaigners are organising a petition to have the grammar school system abolished.

Kent County Council's education committee wants to find ways of making the applications system fairer and faster, with a less time-consuming appeals process for pupils who are "borderline" between grammar and non-grammar schools.

[ image: Campaigners against grammar schools say they will gather enough names to trigger ballots]
Campaigners against grammar schools say they will gather enough names to trigger ballots
This could mean the removal of headteachers' recommendations in the selection process for grammars and a return to a system based almost entirely on a single test.

But as the council prepares for a long-term future for the grammar system, the council's director of education has also been given approval to lay contigency plans for the abolition of grammars - if parents vote for a switch to a comprehensive system.

Kent is one of the few education authorities in England to have retained the 11-plus selection system and is set to become one of the battlegrounds for the future of the remaining 166 grammar schools in the country.

Triggering a ballot

Under legislation introduced last year, a ballot on scrapping the 11-plus will be triggered if 20% of parents of children under the age of 16 in the authority sign a petition by 31 July 2000.

The local anti-selection campaign, Stop the 11-Plus (STEP), says that the attempts to change the admissions process shows the selective system is "deeply flawed".

Becky Matthews, speaking on behalf of STEP, said that momentum was gathering behind the anti-selection campaigners and that they were winning the argument.

Although gathering enough names for a ballot remained "an enormous hurdle", she remained confident that enough parents would be persuaded that the comprehensive system was better than selection.

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