Parents win battle to restrict selection

13th August 1999 at 01:00
Geraldine Hackett looks at the background to the controversial selection debate.

THE GOVERNMENT is facing some anxious moments over public reaction to the first rulings on parents' complaints against schools that select some of their pupils by ability.

The fate of such schools rests with the string of local adjudicators who operate independently, but have to take account of the new admissions code.

Reaction to the first ruling from an adjudicator suggests The Daily Mail, at least, is prepared to campaign on behalf of those middle-class parents who scramble for places in schools that are not quite comprehensive.

Three neighbouring schools in London have been told to reduce the proportion of pupils they select to 25 per cent to prevent them from taking a disproportionate share of the brightest pupils and squeezing out local children.

The ruling applies to Graveney, Wandsworth, which currently admits half its intake on ability and is massively popular. Last year, Graveney did not admit a single pupil simply because the child lived near the school. Those who were not there on the basis of test results were mainly the brothers or sisters of older pupils.

Other cases in the pipeline are just as likely to exercise leader writers. Next month, an adjudicator will almost certainly tell

two prestigious Hertfordshire schools, the boys' and girls' grammars in Watford, that they cannot continue to select half their pupils on the basis of academic ability.

So far, the office of the adjudicator has received complaints about 40 schools. More than half of those are in Hertfordshire.

In the London suburb of Bromley, where the scramble for places intensified when schools started to select 30 per cent of pupils on basis of tests, all the secondaries have dropped partial selection.

"The low level of objections is striking," says Sir Peter Newsam, the chief adjudicator. "It is a clear indication that the admission forums set up by local education authorities in order that schools can agree arrangements have been very successful."

According to Martin Rogers of The Education Network, objections are likely to confined to the inner cities. "We don't know how many schools introduced partial selection and we don't know how many will just decide to drop it rather than face objections from parents and local education authorities."

Ruling out any academic selection means schools, unless they are religious, take the children who live closest. But is it any fairer that the wealthy can buy homes near to popular schools?

The code allows schools to select pupils on the basis of ability, provided the intention is to ensure a comprehensive intake across the ability range.

Whether middle-class parents will accept the loss of academic streams in over-subscribed schools will depend on how far the struggling ones improve.

Ministers have decided to hand over the process to independent adjudicators, and can only await the results.

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