Government plans to curb selection

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Bar is proposed on aptitude tests for technology colleges. Michael Shaw reports

Fewer specialist schools will be able to pick pupils using aptitude tests under new government plans to cut selection. But the proposals do not pose a threat to England's remaining 164 grammar schools.

The plans were due to be announced yesterday by education ministers in response to a highly critical report on admissions from MPs on the Commons education select committee in July.

It is unclear how many specialists would be affected by the new ruling.

Currently secondary schools can select up to 10 per cent of pupils by aptitude if they have specialist status in modern languages, music, performing arts, visual arts, sports, design and technology, or information and communications technology.

Under the plans, no schools with specialisms in design and technology or ICT would be able to use these powers unless they do so already.

MPs had recommended that the Government should end all such selection by specialist schools because it was too difficult to separate aptitude - pupils' potential to perform - from their attainment.

The MPs received evidence from Philip Hunter, chief schools adjudicator, who said that defining the difference between aptitude and attainment was "the sort of exercise lexicographers get up to when they haven't enough to do".

Stephen Twigg, education minister, later said at Labour's policy forum that there was little difference between selection by ability and aptitude in academic subjects although it was possible to have "a kind of natural aptitude" in areas such as sport and the arts.

The Department for Education and Skills said the change was being made because ministers accepted that it was difficult to assess aptitude in computing and technology but remained convinced it was practical in subjects such as modern languages.

Only around 6 per cent of the existing 1,955 specialist schools use their powers to select.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust, said it would be a pity to reduce his members' powers to select, particularly as all secondary schools in England are expected to gain specialist status eventually.

But he said: "Frankly there are more important issues, and selection has long been used as a stick to beat specialist schools."

Technology specialist schools which already select pupils would be allowed to continue. These include the repeatedly praised Ninestiles in Birmingham, which makes all its applicants sit an exam for technological aptitude.

At least 700 secondary schools already specialise in technology, design and technology or ICT.

Ministers were also due to announce plans to toughen the codes of practice on admissions which guide schools and local education authorities, particularly the guidance on how places should be allocated where schools are oversubscribed. But they were not expected to make the codes compulsory, despite complaints from MPs that they are too weak.

No proposals were expected that would make it easier to stop grammar schools from selecting pupils using the 11-plus.

Anti-selection campaigners have been calling for a change to the system which allows parents to ballot to end the 11-plus in their area because they say it is nearly impossible to gain enough signatures to hold a vote.

Only one ballot has been held, in Ripon, North Yorkshire, where parents voted to retain their local grammar school.

News 13

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