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Rapid rise in grammars sought

SPECIALISATION. Grammar schools: the Secretaries of State for Education and Employment and for Wales will, as a matter of general policy, look favourably on proposals which would increase the number of grammar schools.

Such proposals may come from the grant-maintained or local education authority sectors, and the Secretaries of State will continue to take account of the circumstances of each case in deciding whether to approve proposals.

The Department for Education and Employment and the Welsh Office will streamline the process for considering such proposals to ensure that a decision is reached as rapidly as the legal requirements allow.

The Government proposes to give the Funding Agency for Schools the power to put forward proposals to set up new schools in all areas where they are needed. This will in particular allow the FAS to propose new GM grammar schools.

Where the governing body of a county school wishes to become a grammar school, the Secretaries of State will look to the LEA to pursue that constructively. The Government intends to give those governing bodies a right of appeal to ensure that reasonable proposals are not blocked.

Schools in both the GM and LEA sectors may want to introduce a significant grammar-school-type stream of high-ability pupils in their intake, while still continuing to take other pupils by reference to different admission criteria.

The Government takes the view that all admission authorities have the flexibility, under existing legislation, to select up to 15 per cent of their pupils by ability or aptitude in one or more subjects, or by general ability, without the need to publish statutory proposals.

The Government proposes that specialist schools in the LEA sector should be able, if they so wish, to select up to 30 per cent of their pupils by ability or aptitude in the specialist subjects without central approval.

As with schools wishing to become grammar schools, the Government intends to give governing bodies of specialist schools, where they wish to make use of this new power to select up to 30 per cent of their pupils, a right of appeal to ensure that reasonable proposals are not blocked. But the case for schools introducing an element of selection as a means of developing a distinctive strength goes much wider. So the Government proposes that all LEA schools should be able to select up to 20 per cent of their pupils by ability or aptitude without central approval.

All schools should review regularly what strengths they have, how best they can build on them to enrich the choices available to their local community, and whether selecting some of their pupils by ability or aptitude, in a particular subject or generally, would help the school meet parents' wishes and local needs more effectively.

The Government proposes that the governing bodies of all schools should be expected to consider these issues annually, in consultation with parents.

A "call-in" system - where changes would continue to require the Secretary of States's approval - might be useful in tightly defined circumstances, such as where there was a clear local shortage of school places or where the proportion of selective schools or places exceeded a certain level.

So that as many parents as possible can get their first choice of school, schools which introduced partial selection would not be able to refuse admission to children if they still had empty places.

Parents refused admission would continue to have the right to appeal.

* New GM schools: in all cases where a new school is needed to meet demand for extra places, the FAS would be able to put forward proposals to the Secretary of State alongside any proposals from the LEA.

In judging the two sets of proposals, the Secretary of State would give preference to those which would most extend diversity.

The Government would like to see more promoters of all kinds coming forward with robust proposals for new GM schools.

The Government proposes to enable the FAS to pay grants to help meet expenses incurred by potential promoters in drawing up a fully costed development plan.

The Government proposes to extend the programme to help existing GM and LEA secondary schools to specialise in two new areas - sports and the arts (covering the performing arts, the fine arts and the technology of the arts).

These schemes would run on the same lines as the existing technology and language colleges.

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