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Anti-grammars campaign 'a disgraceful waste money'

ANTI-GRAMMAR school campaigners have come under fire after it emerged their attempts to trigger parental votes on scrapping selection in Kent and other parts of the country have cost the taxpayer more than £1million.

Education officials have disclosed the Department for Education and Skills has spent £1.1million on preparatory work for ballots which have, as yet, failed to happen.

Most of the money has been incurred by schools, who, under the legislation governing ballots on grammars, are required to compile lists of parents eligible to vote.

They have been compelled to do so because the Kent campaign group STEP – Stop The Eleven Plus – has, in successive years, exploited the legislation allowing it to kick-start the first stage of the process with a petition signed by just ten parents.

At that point, all schools in the relevant area must draw up lists of those parents who could take part in a referendum. The Government reimburses schools the costs but that money comes from the public purse.

STEP has not confined its campaign to Kent and this year, triggered the process in every authority which still has grammar schools.

Shadow education secretary and Ashford MP Damian Green said: “This is a disgraceful waste of money at a time when many schools are facing teacher redundancies and other cutbacks. The idea that we are spending money on a futile battle just shows what a complete nonsense these regulations are. We have always argued this was a piece of bad legislation – it should be scrapped,” he said.

But anti-grammar campaigners remained unrepentant and said they had succeeded in highlighting the absurdity of the regulations.

Martin Frey, of STEP, said: “It is the Government which brought in these rules and it must either repeal the legislation or put in place a set of workable regulations. They are designed to preserve grammars, not allow them to be scrapped,” he said.

Cllr Paul Carter, KCC's cabinet member for education, urged ministers to change the rules. “The government does need to look at this. Drawing up lists wastes headteachers’ time and staff time. I would prefer the legislation to go because it puts some excellent schools under a permanent cloud.”

Parental votes on the fate of the country’s remaining 164 grammars are allowed under a law brought in by Labour in 1997. To date, only one such ballot has been held. Parents in Ripon, North Yorkshire, voted to keep the town’s grammar school.

Since his appointment, education secretary Charles Clarke has sent out conflicting signals about grammars. He commissioned an Ofsted analysis suggesting Kent had a far higher number of poorly-performing schools than similar authorities but has recently said he had no plans to scrap selection in Kent.

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