National Grammar Schools Association
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NGSA News Release

January 2006

UK grammar schools unite to survive

Parents and headteachers from grammar schools in England and Northern Ireland joined forces in London on the 21st of January to fight for the survival of their schools. Delegates at the conference, organised by the National Grammar Schools Association (NGSA), warned that if Northern Ireland's grammar schools are destroyed, England's 164 remaining grammar schools will probably follow.

Northern Ireland's 70 grammar schools are under imminent threat of destruction by the Westminster government, which intends to outlaw academic selection in Ulster. However, the government's own consultations have repeatedly shown that the destruction of Northern Ireland's grammar schools is against the wishes of a majority of the local population. It is, therefore, totally undemocratic, especially when 64% of parents and 62% of teachers in Northern Ireland oppose what the politicians are doing.

Nevertheless, Angela Smith MP, Labour's Northern Ireland education minister, is pressing ahead with regulations to come into operation on 1 October 2006, which will ban academic selection and enforce rigid political control of education in Ulster. This is contrary to human rights legislation, which allows parents to choose an education in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions. Taken together, Northern Ireland's grammar and secondary modern schools produce the best examination results in the UK and the greatest social mobility. They should not, therefore, be sacrificed by unaccountable politicians on the altar of a failed comprehensive system that is based on ideology rather than evidence.

Concerns were also expressed about Conservative leader David Cameron's position on academic selection and grammar schools. He and his Party should be unambiguously defending Northern Ireland's excellent schools in Westminster from where they are threatened. (Note for editors: Every year, many thousands of parents in England and Northern Ireland voluntarily enter their children for an 11-plus test to compete for a place in a grammar school. If they are successful, they know they will receive a free education similar to that costing many thousands of pounds at a private school. They also know that, if they are not selected, at least they have tried. And many all-ability comprehensives, such as those in Bristol, produce worse exam results than the average for all secondary modern schools.)

Welcoming new members from Northern Ireland, the NGSA, whose membership was previously limited to schools in England, pledged its full support for colleagues in Northern Ireland.

Speakers at the NGSA conference included: Roger Peach, a solicitor and NGSA vice-president, who spoke about the rights of parents and the state's duty to offer education in accordance with parents' religious and philosophical convictions'; Stephen Elliott, a parent from Belfast and chairman of the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education (Northern Ireland), who explained the undemocratic nature of the Northern Ireland 'story'; Peter Morris, a teacher and national executive member of the Professional Association of Teachers, who has called for the re-introduction of grammar schools in Wales. The conference was chaired by Stephen MacMillan, a parent and NGSA vice-chairman.