Critics of the Government's White Paper predict less choice for parents and a worse deal for disadvantaged pupils. Headteachers have united in opposition over Government proposals intended to allow secondary schools to adopt grammar-school streams.
In separate responses to the current education White Paper, part of which is intended to form the basis of this autumn's Education Bill, the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers say one outcome of increased selection is likely to be less parental choice.
David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "The Government's drive to increase selection is deeply flawed. It will deny many parents the choice they now exercise. It will concentrate on the needs of the 'few' at the expense of the 'many'...The Government's commitment to choice and diversity will be in great danger of disintegrating into a total free-for-all if the White Paper's proposals become law. This would damage standards of education for the majority of pupils."
The White Paper would allow schools to select larger numbers of pupils without seeking approval, with grant-maintained schools able to select up to half of their pupils, specialist schools 30 per cent and local education authority schools 20 per cent. Both unions claim there is no clamour for such changes from parents.
The NAHT says this would turn choosing a school into "a nightmare" for parents, who would have to consider a diverse range of schools, which could significantly alter their character at any time, a range of admissions procedures and the prospect of multiple applications and appeals.
SHA describes these proposals as "incoherent, unfair, divisive, cost-ineffective, administratively burdensome and potentially gender-biased in their application...Questions must be asked about how selection processes can be operated without inbuilt gender bias and about the future of 'sink' schools, largely filled with disaffected and demoralised boys."
It is deeply unhappy about the lack of strategic planning to cover admissions arrangements and the absence of a final arbiter.
SHA says much of the Paper was written in "emotive and tendentious language which has offended even those whose situation the Government seeks to support". It also complains of a bias towards GM schools, and the head of one such school said: "I am ashamed of the outrageous claims made on behalf of the sector and I feel very angry at the denigration of my values, commitments and achievements. "