A little selection goes far

31st March 2000 at 01:00
NOW THAT the result over Ripon grammar school has established the future of fully-selective schools for the time being, I hope that attention might turn to two peculiar anomalies in Government thinking.

Both surround partial selection on the grounds of ability. Three of the 10 secondary schools in my borough select up to half of their intake in this way.

To abolish a grammar school would, rightly, have required support from the wider educational community, through a petition followed by a ballot. To remove partial selection, however, will from this September require an objection from just 10 parents (or another admission authority such as a single foundation school), after which an adjudicator, unelected by local people and unaccountable to them, will have a free hand to change the selection policies of the school involved.

Despite asking on a number of occasions, I have never been able to discover why the Government has made it so much easier to remove partial selection on ability within a diverse system of schools than to remove complete selection. Even opponents of selection would agree, I suspect, that partial selection is easier to justify than complete selection.

At the same time, and in further contraventio of Mr Blunkett's famous "joke", the Government is giving permission for increasing numbers of schools to select on grounds other than proximity or siblings. Two of our schools are about to introduce partial selection, on grounds of sports andor modern languages.

Clearly the flawed "local schools for local children" argument is not behind the antipathy to selection on grounds of ability.

As it happens, although the results of all secondary children in Wandsworth have improved dramatically since the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority, it is the least able who have improved the most, so neither can the objection be on the grounds of "elitism".

I hope that the Government will now follow its own logic through, and remove partial selection by ability from the list of matters on which an adjudicator can decide.

The whole educational community in an area surely should have the same rights to influence such decisions as those near the grammars - a point made powerfully by the High Court judge when he found for Wandsworth against the adjudicator's previous attempt to reduce partial selection two months ago.

Malcolm Grimston

Education committee chairman

London borough of Wandsworth

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