Future of grammars still unclear

12th December 1997 at 00:00
Implacable opponents of academic selection, eager for details of how they can get rid of grammar schools, are still waiting.

The School Standards and Framework Bill gives the Education Secretary powers to lay down regulations for a parental ballot. But it does not say what those regulations will be or when they may be forthcoming - although it does set out what they may cover.

No date is yet set for the publication of those regulations; but the Department for Education and Employment says that it does not expect to see a ballot before April 1999.

The Bill also, as expected, allows selection by aptitude in state schools to continue - albeit within tighter limits.

Until August, schools were allowed to select up to 15 per cent of pupils by aptitude; attempts to extend it were dropped from the Tories' final Education Act. Under Labour's Bill, selection will restricted to 10 per cent for schools introducing it for the first time. But existing arrangements in other schools will be allowed to continue.

Grammar schools are defined by the Bill as those which selected 100 per cent of pupils on the basis of high general ability at the start of this academic year. The Secretary of State "may" allow ballots on selection at individual schools, groups of schools or across an entire local authority.

The regulations will set out how petitions can be submitted to trigger a ballot, how it will be carried out and who is eligible to vote. If the verdict is no change, there will be a minimum period before a second vote can be held.

Parents of pupils in private schools or of pupils receiving "education otherwise than at school" could be allowed to vote. And the regulations could allow the names and addresses of parents to be published.

Local authorities and school governing bodies are banned from campaigning in a ballot and from funding or helping any other campaigners. However, individuals and political parties will be able to campaign.

Schools which already select a proportion of pupils on general ability or on their aptitude for a particular subject will be allowed to continue to do so. However, they will not be allowed to increase the proportion of pupils they select or make any other "significant" changes.

Banding - selection designed to ensure pupils of all abilities are included in the intake - is also permitted. But a school must consult if it wants to introduce banding.

Schools which specialise in one or more subjects may also select at least 10 per cent of pupils with an aptitude in that area. But the Bill says this must not be used as a means of introducing general selection by the back door. Maintained schools will need the backing of their local education authority.

Any changes in admissions arrangements - including dropping selection as well as introducing it - must be subject to local consultation, the Bill says.

Nicolas Barnard

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