Chaos as lottery for grammar entry ends

17th March 2000 at 00:00
Germany. Yojana Sharma reports on Berlin's new admissions headache

ATTEMPTS to abolish the use of a lottery to decide entry into grammar school are threatening to create a summer of "utter chaos" in Berlin, headteachers have warned.

Rising demand for places, fuelled by the capital's move from Bonn to Berlin, has forced the Berlin authorities to prepare a law to govern grammar-school entry, but headteachers fear the criteria will not be legally enforceable.

In the current system, parental choice takes precedence over the primary school's recommendation of academic ability.

In practice, schools allow certain children priority on other criteria. That includes the sequence of foreign languages offered at the school (for instance, those who may have started French or Russian in primary can continue in secondary); distance from the home; and whether there are siblings at the school. But none of these criteria is governed by law.

If a school is oversubscribed, a lottery must be held since, in theory, prospective pupils cannot be turned down if their parents want them to go to that school.

Popular grammars set up extra classes to avoid a lottery and the barrage of appeals from middle-class parents

But middle-class parents are becoming more militant and the Berlin authority notes a "run on grammar schools" since it became the country's capital city.

The present draft of the Berlin authority's new law puts the language sequence as the main priority, followed by the primary school recommendation, then the pupil's distance from the school.

This could lead to a rush of applications to primaries with the right language sequence to feed into popular grammar schools. "There would still be a lottery if more children fulfil the legal criteria than there are places," said Rita Hermann, education spokesman for the Berlin Senate.

Headteachers have welcomed the proposed upgrading of the primary school recommendation. Usually about one-tenth of the first year are pupils who were not recommended for grammar school. About 28 per cent of secondary school children are at grammar schools in the capital.

The applications season is now well under way with heads saying that, with no sign of the new law coming into effect, they have no idea how to select pupils. "If there is no law by the end of March, there will have to be a lottery," said Dirk Retzlaff, education councillor for Koepenick district.

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