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Last Updated: Friday, 18 May 2007, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Cameron warning to grammar rebels
David Cameron
David Cameron warned against party division on grammar schools
Conservative leader David Cameron has slapped down backbench rebels demanding a u-turn over grammar schools.

The MPs are angry about Mr Cameron's decision to end the Tories' traditional support for academic selection.

He told the Evening Standard the party would "never be taken seriously by parents" while it backed selection.

Reports the rebels would be bought off with a pledge to repeal laws allowing parents to scrap existing grammar schools were firmly denied.

Tory education spokesman David Willetts said: "Our position has been consistent throughout.

"As David Cameron made clear when he became Leader, and as I reiterated in my speech on Wednesday, we support existing grammar schools and that has never been in doubt.

We need to focus on raising standards in the 3,000 secondary schools across the country
David Willetts
Tory education spokesman

"However, a return to the 11-plus is not the way of increasing social mobility today. We need to focus on raising standards in the 3,000 secondary schools across the country."

A YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph suggested 70% of Tory voters support selective education.

It comes after Mr Cameron launched an attack on his website on what he called the Telegraph's "near hysterical" coverage of the grammar school debate.

"They simply don't understand that the idea of introducing a few extra grammars says nothing to thousands of parents worried about children languishing in failing schools," wrote Mr Cameron, In a sign of strained relations with the Tory-supporting newspaper.

'Hopelessness'

The policy was denounced as "ridiculous" and "absurd" at a meeting of the influential 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs on Thursday.

They complained there had been no debate within the party about opposing academic selection.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the right wing Cornerstone group said: "We should not rule out state schools being able to select pupils and grammar schools have been one way of getting people out of inner city ghettos."

But Mr Cameron, in an interview with the Evening Standard, said supporting more grammar schools would be "an electoral albatross".

"There is a kind of hopelessness about the demand to bring back grammars on the assumption that this country will only ever be able to offer a decent education to a select few," Mr Cameron told the newspaper.

Academies

He added: "National selection was abolished because it was deeply unpopular with parents, who didn't want their children to be divided into successes and failures at the age of 11."

In the same paper, his education spokesman David Willets has said he will "stand firm" against any Conservative revolt against the new policy, saying the leadership's refusal to back more educational selection was a "crucial test" for the party.

Mr Willetts first spoke of the policy change at a speech earlier this week, saying it was a "fantasy" to say selection at the age of 11, which takes place in grammar schools, could be fair.

He told the paper on Friday: "Going back to the 11-plus just isn't the way forward. It may have worked for many people then, but the condition and the problems are different now."

He backed Labour's the expansion of Labour's city academy system instead.

Academies are non-fee paying, non-selective state schools, which operate outside the control of local education authorities and have private sponsors.




SEE ALSO
In full: Willetts speech
16 May 07 |  UK Politics
Brown pledges academy support
15 May 07 |  Education
Academy call for private schools
14 May 07 |  Education
Children 'do better in grammars'
09 Apr 07 |  Education
No more grammars, Tories pledge
09 Jan 06 |  Education

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