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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 11:50 GMT
Councils told to review 11-plus
Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke: Tougher line than predecessors
The government is telling education authorities in England that still have selective secondary education that they should review their arrangements.

The 164 remaining grammar schools are spread across 36 councils but concentrated in two counties - Buckinghamshire and Kent.

The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, met pro-comprehensive campaigners from Kent last week.

"What I said to them was I thought they ought to make their case on the basis of education standards," he said.

Change of tack

His intervention in the debate signals a change of approach by the government.

When Labour came to power it introduced a complex system of parental ballots to decide the future of the remaining grammar schools.

But only one has been held - to challenge the grammar school in Ripon, North Yorkshire - and produced no change.

Campaigners have more or less given up on the attempt, arguing that the ballots are loaded against them.

Previous education secretaries had regarded the issue as closed - but it has now emerged that Mr Clarke's predecessor, Estelle Morris, had set up a review of the procedures.

'Constantly reviewing'

On Wednesday, giving evidence to the Commons education select committee on secondary education diversity, Mr Clarke said selection "inhibited educational opportunities" for thousands of young people.

He said: "I would hope and believe that the authorities will look at their own practice from the point of view of education standards."

A spokesperson for his department said later: "The government does not support academic selection at 11 and does not wish to see it extended.

"This is an area of policy that - like many - we are constantly reviewing by talking to interested parties."

Not a campaign

Asked about it on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday, Mr Clarke said: "I think education standards are the core of the argument.

"The original argument for getting rid of selection in schools, getting rid of the 11-plus, was around education standards.

"That is the way in which it has to be addressed now."

Mr Clarke denied that he was starting a fresh "campaign" to get parents to vote out the remaining grammar schools.

But he added: "I am saying that the areas where grammar schools are still left, and there are a couple of counties where that is still true, the argument of those who want to change it - and they are entitled to make that argument through the law now - should be based upon education standards."

In Kent - covered by the Kent and Medway education authorities - research was commissioned by an anti-selection Labour MP, Stephen Ladyman.

It was carried out by David Jesson of the University of York, who found that the grammar schools did very poorly when compared with similar schools elsewhere in England.

The secondary moderns also did badly - although the gap was not so pronounced.

His message was that everyone was losing out as a result of the selective system.

See also:

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