National Grammar Schools Association
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Labour ends its 30-year war against grammars

7th December 2001 - The Times

By John O'Lear, Education Officer

Labour will declare an historic truth with grammar schools today after two generations spent trying to abolish selective education.

In its first approach to the remaining 164 grammars in England, the Government is to announce the funding for a series of partnerships between grammars and comprehensive schools. The move will enrage activists, who have accused ministers of going back on promises to end selection.

Less than four years after the Government gave parents the power to abolish the remaining grammar schools and ruled out the creation of any more, Stephen Timms, the School Standards Minister, will trumpet plans to harness their expertise.

Allocating £500,00 to link schools in 28 areas of England, Mr Timms will say: "The time of the 'one-size-fits-all' approach to secondary education has long gone. We now have a mature understanding of the benefits of a diverse system, tailored to meet the needs of every pupil in town.

" Today's announcement also carries a significance beyond the modest amounts involved, since it is the first time that grammar schools have been courted as a group. Mr Timms will say: "We must ensure that best practice is spread throughout the system to everyone's benefit."

Tony Blair has consistently stated his opposition to selection. He once told head teachers that he knew people who had been scarred for life by rejection at 11.

Officials said that there would be no U-turn on the Government's ban on new grammar schools, but the assurance will do little to pacify Labour hardliners, who have accused ministers of stacking the odds against them in parental ballots on selection.

The issue has been subject of bitter recriminations between the party since David Blunkett, as Shadow Education Secretary, promised the Labour Conference: "Read my lips, no selection." He later insisted that the pledge was intended to refer only to extensions of selective education.

Only one parental ballot has been held, in Ripon, North Yorkshire, where the selective system received strong endorsement. An electronic network covering the town's grammar school and the neighbouring language college will be one of the projects announced today.

In other areas activists have been unable to persuade parents at primary schools providing grammar school entrants to sign petitions demanding a ballot. National campaigning has ended.

Mr Timms will emphasize that the new programme is building on existing relationships between grammar and comprehensive schools. The scheme represents a pragmatic acknowledgement that schools that have survived repeated attempts at abolition can boost the Government's provision for the most able pupils.

The new programme follows the model of the Government's support for links between independent and state schools. That scheme, which was launched soon after Labour took power in 1997, was seen as a symbolic rapprochement with a sector that the party once pledged to abolish.

More than £3 million has been invested in the independent scheme, involving 500 schools in shared activities. Another £800,000 is promised to support 35 new projects.

Head teachers of grammar schools participating in the new scheme welcomed the change of heart, John Grainger, the head teacher of Bournemouth School, which is planning teacher exchanges with Summerbee Comprehensive said: "I think a lot of us in the grammar school sector were surprised and delighted."

Elspeth Insch, the headmistress of King Edward VI Handsworth School in Birmingham, said: "I hope this continues because we have a lot to offer and are keen to share expertise. But I doubt if it marks the end of the antagonism because there are too many diehard old Labour people still pulling the strings."

Grammar and comprehensive heads were keen to emphasize that the partnerships would benefit both types of school. Dame Jean Else, head teacher of Whalley Range High School, in Manchester, said that its language teaching link with Altrincham Grammar School was not a one-sided proposal.

Slough Grammar School has already taken in 22 GCSE pupils from the nearby Beechwood Community School so that the comprehensive can concentrate on raising standards among its younger pupils. Margaret Lenton, Slough's headmistress, said the new scheme would allow links to develop further.

The announcement comes after the National Foundation for Educational Research published a study suggesting that pupils on the margins of a grammar school place were better served by selective education than comprehensive.