School protests at being caught in selection war

9th July 2004 at 01:00
A south London school is complaining at being caught in a political row between rival groups of parents challenging its right to select by academic ability.

Graveney school, a top-performing Wandsworth secondary, will select a quarter of its Year 7 intake from September. But a parents' organisation, Campaign for Local Education, has appealed to the Government's school adjudicator to scrap selection at the 1,800-pupil school. The group is also appealing against another Wandsworth secondary, Burntwood, which also selects 25 per cent on ability.

The row has been fuelled by an opposing group of parents appealing to the adjudicator to increase the proportion selected at Graveney. It is the fifth challenge in six years to selection at Graveney, where the proportion selected has dropped from 50 per cent since 1996.

Graveney's acting head Keith Barbrook said the school, where 87 per cent of GCSE candidates get five Cs or better, resented being caught in the crossfire.

He said the massively oversubscribed school got 2,300 applications for places this year. Reducing selection, he said, would only benefit parents living in the half-mile catchment area.

Both Graveney and Burntwood cut 31 selective places from this September's intake, after school adjudicator Professor David Newton ruled they penalised non-selective secondaries by creaming off bright students.

Professor Newton concluded in January that 25 per cent was the optimum selection level for both schools.

Tory-run Wandsworth council, which has no say in admissions at the two schools, claims selection is driving up standards. Malcolm Grimston, cabinet member for education, said selection was the only way some schools could balance intakes in deprived areas. "It is unfortunate that this group of people are still stuck with the idea that people should be dragooned into their local school," he said.

But a Campaign for Local Education spokesman said that entrance-testing dominated the first term of children's final year at primary school, with little educational benefit. "Because of the difficulty of the tests, parents are encouraged to engage private tutors. This means people with higher incomes tend to get their children into the selective places. The Government should make selection illegal. The time has come to abolish it altogether."

The adjudicator's decision is expected later this month.

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