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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 February 2006, 15:48 GMT
Kelly heckled at party conference
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly
Ruth Kelly: No plans to change party policy
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has been heckled at a fringe meeting during the party's spring conference, being held in Blackpool.

Ms Kelly was defending the government's controversial school reform plans.

She faced repeated calls from the floor to abolish the 11-plus in the UK's remaining grammar schools - something not included in the proposals.

When she ruled this out there were cries of "shame" from her audience of party activists.

We cannot get into a debate now that would distract us from everything else we are trying to do to raise standards
Ruth Kelly

Stewart Stacey, of Birmingham Edge Hill Labour Party, said it was not possible to guarantee equality for children until grammar schools had been abolished, arguing that it might even make the government's education proposals easier to sell to rebel Labour backbenchers.

Ms Kelly said it was right for the continued use of the 11-plus in grammar schools to "raise passions", but she insisted she had no plans to alter what was "settled party policy" on the issue.

"We cannot get into a debate now that would distract us from everything else we are trying to do to raise standards," she told the meeting.

Schools will not be allowed to begin selecting children by academic ability under the government's plans, but areas of the country with grammar schools will be able to continue with the 11-plus.

Delay denial

Ms Kelly hit back at accusations that the difference between selection by aptitude - which will be allowed under the proposals - and selection by ability, which will not, was "bogus".

She said that schools had to be free to "develop a distinctive ethos and character", allowing them to specialise in sport, music or foreign languages, for example, while ensuring "fair access" for all.

The row comes as the government denied the Education Bill had been delayed.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears, who denied any delay, said the bill was set for publication by the end of February.

The Education White Paper proposes setting up independent "trust" schools, with more say over admissions.

Fears that the government may be forced to rely on the support of the Conservatives to get the legislation through parliament follows embarrassing backbench revolts over ID cards and the Terrorism Bill.

More than 90 Labour backbenchers, fearful that this could lead to academic selection "by the back door", have signed up to an alternative version.

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