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Rise of covert selection

Church and foundation schools accused of picking out able 'by stealth', reports Jon Slater

CHURCH and foundation schools are 25 times more likely to select pupils who will boost their league table ratings than council-run comprehensives.

And the Government's new specialist schools are three times more likely to select pupils by stealth - "covert selection" - than ordinary comprehensives, according to a new study of secondary admissions.

The study suggests interviews are used to exclude certain families. At these parents may be questioned about their occupation. Church schools, which are meant to stick to questions about religious background, ask if children will be "in harmony" with their ethos.

One in six church schools interviews pupils, a practice to be banned in September 2005. And while fewer than one in 300 community schools selects any pupils for aptitude, one in 17 specialist schools and one in 11 foundation and voluntary-aided schools does. Church and foundation schools control their own admissions.

The study, looking at admissions rules at 95 per cent of English secondaries, was carried out Professor Anne West and Audrey Hind of the London School of Economics.

It was presented at a conference on admissions, run by the Education Network, in London this week.

The researchers found community schools were most likely to have "fair" criteria and give priority to children with special needs.

But a "significant minority" of schools, mainly voluntary-aided and foundation schools, use criteria "which appear ...designed to select certain groups of pupils and so exclude others". They do this, say the authors, "to obtain higher positions in exam league tables".

The research follows reports that a Catholic school chosen by Tony Blair for his daughter has broken government rules by using interviews to select children by aptitude. According to The Times, Sacred Heart school in Hammersmith, west London, asks children if they need "special help".

Professor West found that 10 per cent of church schools interview parents and 16 per cent interview pupils. The new rules banning interviews are backed by Church of England and Catholic leaders.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke has also promised to clamp down on schools who "wheel in their vicar" to advise on admissions. But Canon John Hall, the Church of England's chief education officer, defended vicars, who were often governors and who took their role "extremely seriously".

"Exploring the extent of overt and covert selection" by Anne West and Audrey Hind will be available on the web at

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