New legal threat to ban on selection

21st January 2000 at 00:00
Barnet. Three court challenges in six months for the Government's new schools admissions watchdog. Clare Dean reports.

FRESH from defeat in the High Court over partial selection in Wandsworth, the Government's admissions watchdog faces a new legal challenge.

It will be the third such challenge in the six months since the Office of the Schools Adjudicator began its work.

Limited legal aid has been granted to parents fighting a ruling by the adjudicator that Mill Hill high school in north London curb the number of pupils it selects by academic ability.

Earlier this week three parents met a QC who will present their case to a judge, who will then decide whether the ruling is eligible for judicial review.

The parents are fighting a ruling that Mill Hill reduce its existing partial selection, on ability and aptitude in technology, music or dance, from 45 per cent to 10 per cent on aptitude alone.

The decision was based on objections from the minimum 10 parents and Barnet Council, who claimed partial selection worked against the interests of local children by limiting their choice of schools.

John Clark, the adjudicator, said: "The reputation of the school in technology, music and dance will encourage interested pupils and parents to make the school their first preference without the need to limit... the opportunities of local pupils to attend the school."

But headteacher Dr Alan Davison said the decision was politically motivated and ignored the views of parents with children at the 1,400-pupil school.

There have been two revious challenges to adjudications over admissions policy (see left). The first, in the metropolitan borough of Wirral, backed the adjudicators. The second, over partial selection in three secondaries in the flagship Tory borough of Wandsworth, resulted in defeat for the adjudicator, victory for the council.

But such high-profile battles over admissions, give a false impression of what is actually happening. In fact there is no widespread unhappiness.

There have been objections to admission arrangements in only 14 local authorities and, as far as partial selection to secondaries is concerned, just 37 complaints have been sent for adjudication.

These have either been objections to arrangements made by education authorities or, for the most part, by individual schools - foundation or voluntary-aided - which act as their own admissions authorities.

Of 37 objections, 19 were not upheld by the adjudicator; 14 were partially upheld and the level of selection reduced and four ended selection by ability.

Chief adjudicator Sir Peter Newsam said: "The notion that these new arrangements for dealing with school admissions are some sort of plot to get rid of partial selection has no basis."

He said it was right that decisions by the adjudicators could be legally challenged in the courts.

Other authorities where there have been objections to the adjudicators about admissions policies include: Bexley, Croydon, Derbyshire, Essex, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Plymouth, Surrey and Torbay.

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