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Admission U-turn angers grammars

Human rights row looms over decision not to tell parents 11-plus result earlier. Michael Shaw reports

Plans to let parents know whether their child has passed the 11-plus before they apply for a secondary place have been abandoned by the Government because responses to a consultation on the idea were sharply divided.

The Department for Education and Skills announced before Christmas it was halting a new code on admissions which would have come into effect last week.

The U-turn follows more than 500 responses from parents, schools and other organisations to the consultation on the code of practice.

A summary of the responses, just published, shows that the most controversial aspect related to admissions for England's remaining 164 grammar schools.

An admissions system, introduced last year, led many local authorities to make parents list schools in order of preference before their child sat the 11-plus.

Grammar school heads said the move prompted a drop of around 15 per cent in admissions because parents were unwilling to place them at the top of their lists in case their children failed the test.

The new code of practice would have reversed this change, letting parents receive the results before making their choices.

But this proposal attracted more responses than any other part of the code.

Views were sharply divided: 149 were in favour while 158 were opposed.

All but four of the 45 parents who responded said they supported the change, indicating that most opposition came from schools and local authorities.

The National Grammar Schools Association is now considering challenging the Government in the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that parents'

rights are being violated.

Brian Wills-Pope, its chairman, said the association was deeply disappointed and was examining its finances to see if it could afford the legal challenge. "We believe it is a human right for parents to know their child's result before they choose their school," he said.

But the campaign group Comprehensive Future said that changing the system back would be unfair on parents committed to comprehensive education. These families would have no more chance of getting a comprehensive place than more opportunistic parents who only put a comprehensive as first preference after their child failed the entrance test for a grammar.

Margaret Tulloch, Comprehensive Future secretary, said she appreciated that parents who chose grammars were in a difficult situation as they had to gamble that their children would pass. "The answer, very simply, is not to have selective education at all," she said.

Changes to admissions in the abandoned code that are still due be introduced this year include making local authorities give priority to children in care.

The Government also plans to fulfil a promise to cut the types of schools that can select 10 per cent of pupils by aptitude. Schools that specialise in design and technology or ICT will no longer be able to do this unless they do so already.

The changes are expected in the education bill and will help ministers fend off criticism that they are making schools more selective.

The DfES could not confirm if it would revisit the changes to grammar admissions but said it needed to reflect on the public response.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

http:publications.teachernet.gov.uk

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