Scrabble ignores language of hope

28th January 2005 at 00:00
The inequitable, outdated pupil admissions system is being used by traditional schools to retain the status quo. For the independent sector, the entrance exam "creams off" students to the academic promised land with the belief that their little cherubs will not mix with the difficult students encountered in life, but not in certain schools.

For faith schools, Christian selection, sorry, ethos, is the key to ensuring their self-regulated, pupil admissions limits are always met, thereby minimising other placements that will be decided on ability ethos.

For the rest of us, let us hope our year groups are full or we will become the receiving school for the county as desperate local education authority officers pander to parents.

Catchment areas are forgotten in the undignified scrabble for a secondary school place, and never mind the distance, or need for a professionally-assessed placement based on actual educational needs.

"Pack 'em in, sell 'em short" would appear to be the pupil admissions policy that provides inclusion to a comprehensive system which is ill prepared to provide adequate integration.

Immersion in the school often leads to exclusion from the lesson as pupils, their peers, and classrooms with two or three languages struggle to cope with the rigours and movement of a traditional English 11-16 school.

Children who speak little English receive the worst of the deal. This diverse, transient, multi-ethnic group arrives with hope and their needs change the culture and pedagogy of a school.

They arrive in their new country wide-eyed and expectant with a babble of language - Portuguese, Polish, Urdu, Cantonese, Turkish and Filippino - smartly attired and desperate to learn.

They share the expectancy that education is important and something to be valued, not feared.

With the breaking down of European barriers to movement, it is critical that national policy should place the need for diverse language teachingsupport at the fore, rather than get by with an ad-hoc policy of student placement in schools that happen to have space.

Those schools that succeed and react flexibly to their changing role will have grateful, talented descendants, a rich legacy to work with in the future and a richer community now.

Neil Morris is head of Christopher Whitehead high school, Worcester.Feeling aggrieved? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble.

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