Labour will not abolish grammar schools, Gordon Brown has pledged.

The Prime Minister squashed speculation he might act against selective education when asked to reveal his plans by a delegate at Labour's annual conference.

Although most local authorities now have a solely comprehensive system, some councils, including Birmingham, continue to operate grammar schools.

As Labour also refuses to consider opening new grammars, the Prime Minister's policy is effectively the same as Tory leader David Cameron's.

Both party leaders oppose the creation of new selective schools but also say they will not close existing schools.

Mr Brown said his Government would continue to allow parents to request the closure of grammars in a public ballot, but this policy has been in place for many years and has so far not resulted in the closure of a single selective school.

During a question and answer session with the Prime Minister at Labour's conference, one delegate prompted cheers from assembled activists when he asked Mr Brown to abolish grammars.

But the Prime Minister told him: "I can't give you this assurance on grammars.

"This is a matter for individuals and communities to vote on.

"But what I do say is that the difference between us and the Conservative party is that our interest is in all children and all schools.

"And our interest will always be that those people who are in danger of falling behind are given the support that is necessary so that they can make the most of their potential too."

That came as Schools Secretary Ed Balls said yesterdaythat Labour's decade in power has raised standards in education - but not enough.

The acknowledgement came as he confirmed plans to boost pupils' writing skills and to strip ministers of influence over exam standards.

Mr Balls announced that a new negotiating body for school staff in England would be created.

And he launched a fierce attack on "Cameron Conservatism".

He warned that it advocated "world class education not for all, but for the privileged elite".

In his keynote speech to the annual rally, Mr Balls told delegates: "For all the progress we have made in raising standards in schools we are still falling short.

"Yes, 100,000 more children are now reaching the right level in English at 11 compared to 10 years ago - but one in five still fall short as they go on to secondary school.

"Yes, GCSE results are rising faster for children entitled to free school meals - but poorer children are still only half as likely to get five good GCSE passes.

"So we need to raise our sights."

Mr Balls, a close ally of the Prime Minister, said the Government would expose Tory divisions over education "day by day, week by week" from now until the next General Election.

"When David Cameron says 'let's stop pretending all the children are the same' we know what he really means," he added.

"He wants a 'back to basics' family tax policy, which would penalise and treat as second-class the millions of children whose parents are separated, widowed or divorced.

"We know that an education system that caters only for the elite rather than the needs of all is not only unjust, it is an economic disaster too.

"We know David Cameron's back-to-basics is back-to-privilege. Back to the past. And more recently back and forth depending on the pressures of the day.

"World class education not for all, but for the privileged elite - that is Cameron Conservatism."

And he pledged: "We will expose day by day, week by week, in every constituency, from now to the election: Tory division and confusion."

Mr Balls outlined a programme of intensive support and one-to-one tuition to boost the writing skills of primary school children who are falling behind.

"For those in greatest danger of falling behind, I can announce that alongside our Every Child A Reader and Every Child Counts programmes, we will now introduce Every Child a Writer too - so that every child can leave primary school with the three Rs," he said.

And in a fight-back against charges of "dumbing down" in exams, he said: "I want to end young people being told that the GCSE or A level grades they are proud of aren't worth what they used to be.

"I want parents, universities, employers and young people themselves to be confident that exam standards are being maintained.

"So today I am announcing that we will split the curriculum-setting and standards-monitoring roles of the QCA, and we will legislate to create a new regulator of exam standards, independent of government."

Mr Balls also pledged that the Government would ensure heads and teachers had the powers to tackle truancy and enforce discipline.