'Selection at 14 would help both sectors'

30th January 2009 at 00:00

Academic selection should be introduced for 14-year-olds in England, the spokesman for Britain's most prestigious independent schools has suggested.

Geoff Lucas, secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, writes in The TES today that the system being considered for Northern Ireland could benefit pupils of all backgrounds.

As well as letting state secondary schools pick pupils, Mr Lucas suggests that independent schools would be tempted to open their doors to high-achieving pupils, if they received the associated government funding.

"The low-cost option (for the state) of making use of the world-class selective schools in the independent sector should be seriously explored," he writes.

"Selection at 14 could then open up an academic stream for the talented which would not only benefit them, but is also essential for our economic wellbeing."

Mr Lucas says that the advantage of letting pupils switch at 14 is that it is now the starting age for many qualifications, including GCSEs and the new diplomas. He adds that the Government could not claim to be entirely opposed to selection when it promotes gifted and talented summer camps and other schemes that bring the brightest pupils together.

Neither the Government, nor the Conservatives appear likely to follow Mr Lucas's proposal in the short-term. Spokespersons for the Conservatives and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said they were opposed to any expansion of selection.

But in Northern Ireland, the idea of letting schools select at 14 has been backed by the country's education minister Catriona Ruane, of Sinn Fein, and the four major churches. This approach could break the deadlock that has existed for nearly seven years since Martin McGuinness, then education minister, pledged to abolish the 11-plus.

Although the country's last official 11-plus tests were sat last year, at least 30 grammar schools have said they plan to continue selecting pupils. Some secondary heads have also questioned the practicality of letting pupils start secondary school at 11 and switching three years later.

Geoff Lucas, page 31.

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