Tories in ‘disarray’ over grammar schools

David Cameron has been accused of presiding over a party in disarray after another frontbencher criticised his policy on grammar schools.

Furthermore, he appears to have slipped into a U-turn – saying more grammar schools could be built 16 days after he started a Tory row by insisting there would be no more grammar schools.

Shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve appeared to break ranks to say more grammar schools should be built in his local area if there is demand.

Mr Grieve is MP for Beaconsfield, where Buckinghamshire children are some of the few in England still to sit the 11-plus.

Labour claimed the Conservatives’ education policy was in chaos amid a grassroots revolt and the threat of a shadow Cabinet split.

However, a party spokesman insisted Mr Grieve had not said anything which contradicts official Conservative policy, which states the party would not close down existing grammar schools in areas such as Buckinghamshire and Kent.

Writing in the Buckinghamshire Examiner, Mr Grieve said: “There is no question of our changing the selective education system in Buckinghamshire against the wishes of the local community.

“We must also ensure that if further grammar or secondary schools are needed they can be supplied within the county.”

A fortnight ago, Mr Cameron risked a grassroots revolt by ruling out a return to the 11-plus.

A future Conservative government would not build more grammar schools but would instead continue Labour’s city academies scheme, his education secretary David Willetts confirmed.

But Mr Willetts insisted yesterday the Tories had not ruled out building more grammar schools where necessary.

“I am fully aware that in a place with rapid demographic change, like Buckinghamshire, you are inevitably going to face questions about whether you need to build more schools or not,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One

Education secretary Alan Johnson claimed Mr Cameron had subtly “caved in” to backbench pressure.

Mr Grieve’s comments follow the resignation of Tory European spokesman Graham Brady. The Altrincham and Sale West MP defended the grammar system and was told to “stick to his brief” by senior Tories. He resigned in protest.

Jacqui Smith, Labour’s chief whip, said: “Dominic Grieve’s comments have thrown the Tories’ schools policy into further chaos.

“At the same time as David Cameron and George Osborne pledge that new grammar schools would not be built, their own shadow attorney general says that allowance should be made for new grammar schools to be built.

“The Tories are in complete disarray.”

Aside from frontbench dissent, Mr Cameron has been heavily criticised by the traditional 1922 Committee, who claim the new policy is “absurd” and “ridiculous”.

Mr Cameron denied he was trying to force the party into his own “clause four moment” to solidify his modernising agenda.

His response to the latest frontbench dissent has been markedly more moderate than his reaction to initial criticism, after which he called supporters of the 11-plus “naive”.