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CLARKE PLANS TO MAKE GRAMMAR SCHOOL BALLOTS EASIER

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Education secretary Charles Clarke is threatening a new assault on state grammer schools that could make it easier ...
Education secretary Charles Clarke is threatening a new assault on state grammer schools that could make it easier for parents to disband them, according to The Sunday Times (p3, News Review p5).

In an interview with the paper, he disclosed he was considering changing the rules on ballots, which opponents of grammar schools claim are deliberately weighted against them. The plan is likely to be critised by Conservatives and parents of grammar school pupils as contradicting a comment from Tony Blair in the commons this year that the government 'had no plans to abolish grammar schools.'

At present, only parents of pupils at feeder primary schools that send children to the local grammar school can vote on whether a secondary school should remain selective or go comprehensive. Since Labour introduced the ballot regime in 1997, there had been only one ballot, in Ripon. The attempt to abolish the local grammar school failed.

Mr Clarke believes the educational excellence of grammar schools has been exaggerated and he argued that they could depress the educational standards of an area: 'There are good grammar schools and bad; the debate is about the impact on educational standards of the whole population.'

He said it would be fairer to give a vote to 'everybody affected' - which could include the parents of children who went to primary schools that did not send their pupils to grammars. This would have the potential to tilt ballots in favour of abolition.

However, any attempt to give a wider pool of parents a greater say on grammar schools will be viewed sceptically by the prime minister and the modernisers in the No 10 policy unit. The regulations were deliberately brokered to make ballots very difficult for the anti-grammar school lobby to win.

Mr Clarke also announced his intention of founding secondary run by Britain's major museums. He discussed the plan last week with the heads of 10 major museums and galleries. Like specialist schools, each museum school would focus on its area of exper tise but would also provide a broad curriculum. Mr Clarke believes the schools would open in many British cities but is particularly hopeful that they will help tackle the problem in London, where 20% of parents educate children privately.

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