Meeting with Michael Howard
Michael Howard and Eric Hammond

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Meeting with Michael Howard, Leader of the Conservative Party on 18th June 2004

Richard Avery, Eric Hammond, and Keith Williams represented SKS when they met with Mr Howard in Folkestone.

Mr Hammond opened by giving brief details of the background to SKS, but as a Kent MP Mr Howard was well aware of the situation. Mr Hammond indicated that the aims of SKS and the Conservative Party, as far as education was concerned, ought to be similar, if not the same. Mr Howard agreed.

Mr Hammond went on to say that there was currently a situation where both Labour and Conservative speakers were calling for the same thing, i.e. abolition of the petition / ballot arrangements. Mr Howard responded that this was for very different reasons, as his party wanted to stop abuse of the system and the waste of public money; Labour activists still wanted a commitment to end selection.

There was some discussion about recent comments of Conservative spokesmen and Mr Howard said that their revised policy on education would be published within the next few weeks. He was unable to give full details, but did say that whilst there would not be a centrally driven return to selection, it would be possible for locally based parents to be the catalyst for the re-organisation of schools along the lines they wanted, always provided that standards improved.

He accepted that currently there is still a very high risk to grammar schools, and that this would continue or even increase if Labour was returned to power at the next general election. The converse would be true if Conservatives were to form the next Government.

Keith Williams then gave a resume of the threat from the Learning Skills Council to school sixth forms in Medway. There had been a limited form of consultation on the LSC proposals, following which schools had been given a short period of years to meet LSC targets. It was stressed that any movement of sixth forms to a college system would almost certainly see the demise of Medway grammar schools, as there were no 11-16 selective schools in the rest of the country. Again, Mr Howard indicated that this would not be allowed to happen under Conservative proposals.

The meeting finished with a discussion about the current chaotic Kent secondary transfer arrangements. It was emphasised to Mr Howard that there was likely to be a continuation of great uncertainty right through to the start of the autumn term, with the possibility of grammar schools accepting entrants during September to fill vacancies. Mr Howard said that such chaos would justify the LEA, supported by local MPs, returning to the Adjudicator to have the admission arrangements re-thought.

Finally, it was agreed that it might be mutually useful for SKS to also meet Mr Tim Collins, who shadowed education for the Conservatives.