Selection `will mean secondary moderns'

Jeremy Sutcliffe reports on a campaign against the Government's White Paper scheme to increase diversity.

Government plans to create new grammar schools will inevitably mean more secondary moderns, according to an anti-selection leaflet launched today.

The leaflet, to be sent to every school in England and Wales, is published by the advisory body Local Schools Information, which has led the campaign against the Government's opting-out policy.

LSI, which receives financial backing from local authorities, is urging parents, governors and teachers to write to ministers and lobby their MPs to put their views on the Government's plans to extend selection and to curb still further the powers of local education authorities.

The Education and Employment Secretary, Gillian Shephard, is currently consulting about plans set out in a White Paper published in June. The White Paper contains four main proposals: * encouraging further diversity by developing specialist, selective and partially selective schools; * an extension of financial delegation to give schools control of 95 per cent of their budgets; * further powers for grant-maintained schools; * new powers to enable Government school inspectors to monitor LEAs.

The LSI leaflet says that the plans would "lead inevitably to the creation of more secondary moderns". The encouragement of partial selection - whether or not it is linked to specialisms in schools - would also lead to more children being denied access to local schools, it says.

Forcing LEAs to delegate 95 per cent of their budgets to schools would mean additional responsibility and work being forced on schools, according to the leaflet. The LSI also says that the Government's attempt to paint a picture of an expanding GM sector fails to mention that the number of opt-out ballots has declined by 85 per cent in the past three years, while the proportion of ballots voting against opting out has increased from 22 per cent to 47 per cent.

Any remaining financial benefit from opting out is effectively removed by the White Paper's proposal to raise the minimum level of delegation of school budgets to 95 per cent, says the leaflet.

"The Government has set out its stall and invited those who use and work in the school system to respond. We are trying to make sure that people understand the implications of the proposals, and we hope that this leaflet will be circulated widely enough to stimulate a much wider - and better informed - level of debate about these crucial issues," said LSI spokesman Martin Rogers.

Legislation to allow schools to select more pupils by ability is expected to be announced in the Queen's Speech on October 26. Ministers intend to change the rules to allow GM schools to select up to 50 per cent of their intake and specialist schools to select up to 30 per cent. LEA schools would be allowed to select up to 20 per cent.

Also likely to be included in the Bill are plans to force governing bodies to consider at least once a year whether to introduce selection, and new powers for the Office for Standards in Education to monitor LEAs. However, the White Paper's proposals to delegate more spending power to schools are unlikely to be introduced before the general election.

The deadline for comments on the White Paper is October 4. Responses should be sent to Jane Whitfield, DFEE, Location 3E4, Sanctuary Buildings, London SW1P 3BT, or to Linda Poole, Schools Administration Division, Welsh Office, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF1 3NQ. Your Schools's Future, A Guide to the Government's New Proposals, is available from Local Schools Information, 1-5 Bath Street, London EC1V 9QQ.

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