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The ballots are not about closing grammar schools; they are about future admission arrangements. Pupils who are already at the school have passed that hurdle; it is not a matter for their parents how admission arrangements work in future. Many parents may claim an interest in the issue of whether existing grammar schools should retain their selective admission arrangements, but parents of pupils at feeder primary schools are the ones who have the strongest interest because they may be hoping that their children will go to the grammar school.
Parents of pupils who are already at grammar schools have less interest because their children will not be directly affected by the future admission arrangements. Their children entered the school as part of a selective entry and we expect that they will continue in a selective stream until they leave the school.
If parents of pupils at grammar schools were to have a vote, there would be a strong argument for including parents of pupils at other secondary schools. A line has to be drawn somewhere and, given that we are talking about the possibility of a ballot on future admission arrangements, we believe it right to limit it to parents of pupils at traditional feeder schools.
The principle of how we define a feeder school is set out on the face of the Bill, as a result of our amendments to meet the recommendations of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, with the details filled in in the draft regulations which are currently out for consultation. As the noble Baroness knows, a feeder school is defined as a school which has sent five or more pupils in total to the relevant grammar school or schools over the previous three years. That definition was arrived at after consultation with a number of grammar schools. But we will want to bear in mind comments raised in response to the draft regulations before making any final decisions about what the right threshold should be.
In wholly selective LEAs, such as Buckinghamshire, Kent or Trafford, a wider range of parents have an interest in a ballot because a ballot in favour of change would affect the whole structure of secondary education in the area. That is why there is a difference. The noble Baroness asked about that. In such circumstances, the Government believe it is right to give the vote to parents at all primary and secondary schools right across the authority. However, where grammar schools are not part of an overall selective system, there is no well defined area across which one could say that the whole local education system would be affected by a ballot. It is therefore
At previous stages of the Bill, but not this evening, noble Lords opposite talked about "rigged ballots". Frankly, I can see no surer way of rigging a ballot than by including all grammar school parents, but not parents of children at other secondary schools. That is presumably why it is being proposed. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, those who voted on 1st May last year who believed they were voting for new Labour ought to read what the noble Baroness has said, not only today but also what she and her colleagues on the Front Bench have said as they have worked their way through the Bill. If ever there was unreconstructed old Labour in force, it is on these issues. The politics of envy are strong when it comes to such matters.
The noble Baroness scoffed at me for referring to "rigged ballots". The ballots are rigged. The only rigging of which the Government approve is that in favour of ensuring that selection ends. It is all very well to play with words, which the noble Baroness does well. She says that such schools will not close. One day it will be King Edward's Grammar School and the next day it will be Birmingham Comprehensive School. I have no quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, because he is a believer in what is happening here. What will happen is that the children who thought they were attending an all-through grammar school will find, after they have been at the school for one or two years, that staff who were geared up for fast-track grammar school education are required to teach a full ability range in a comprehensive school. When a school is part of the way through the transitional stage, it will be neither one thing nor the other. That will blight the lives of both sets of children because it is not at all a happy arrangement.
Some schools will close. If the Minister says that no schools will close, she is wrong. Some will close; some will merge. Already Trafford, Kent and Buckinghamshire say that they cannot simply call a school "comprehensive" and carry on as though nothing had happened, just changing the intake of the school. Many such schools are too small to become comprehensive schools; they will change and some dramatically. Some, I am afraid, will go into the independent sector. I find that deeply depressing: it means yet another rung taken out of the ladder for bright young children from homes where parents cannot afford independent education.
The one argument the noble Baroness used is: this is about the future of the schools, so there is no case for asking secondary school parents to vote. Then why should secondary school parents vote in the other franchise? What is the logic? It is about the future of those schools too, so why should grammar school parents be given a vote but not the secondary school parents?
The noble Baroness is irritated by such arguments, but they are not only powerful but heartfelt among the parents of children in our schools. I find depressing that dismissive approach to people's real concerns. But they are not Labour's kind of people; they are people whose children have a particular need for a fast-track academic education. That amuses the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and irritates the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves. I commend the amendment.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.