Selection serves a diverse society;Letter

18th June 1999 at 01:00
YOU seem to accept uncritically the caricature of Wandsworth's secondary-school system offered by the somewhat ironically-named Campaign for Local Education (TES, June 4).

There are indeed 10 secondary schools in Wandsworth. But, it is not true that "they all select their pupils to some extent by ability".

Of the nine which will be maintained by Wandsworth from September, only the three you cite select part of their intake by ability. Of the others, one specialises in art and modern languages; one is investigating sports college status; two are Roman Catholic. Indeed, one has spare places, making any claim that it "selects by ability" an obvious nonsense.

The advantages of this diversity are manifold, and have been reflected in dramatically improved exam results and application rates since the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority in 1990. Interestingly (and hearteningly), the most marked improvements have been among the least able children, with the proportion of youngsters leaving school with no GCSE passes falling from more than double the national average to less than three-quarters of the national average in that period.

In the case of Ernest Bevin and Burntwood, two of the three selective schools, selection has simply served to balance the intake and attract more able children who would otherwise by lost to our schools. As an LEA, we are after all the real guardians of a "local education".

Second, it is a truism that all oversubscribed schools must select according to some criteria. It is also well established that property values near good schools are considerably higher. Those who advocate a return to the old catchment areas are in reality arguing for selection by money. The better-performing schools would increasingly be reserved for those who could afford house prices.

I do not know if observations like this explain the extraordinary racial and social monoculture of groups like the Campaign for Local Education. As the LEA, of course, we wish to see much fairer access to popular schools for all pupils, whatever their background.

Most important, though, is the underlying philosophy of education to which we subscribe. There is, I believe, a widespread acceptance that the way comprehensivisation was carried out failed more than one generation of children. The rhetoric, and certainly the personal actions, of senior government members confirm this; a series of nominally identical comprehensives fails to recognise the diversity of children and parents.

Malcolm C Grimston

Education committee chairman

Wandsworth Council, London SW18

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