Victory... for now

21st January 2000 at 00:00
Wandsworth. Three court challenges in six months for the Government's new schools admissions watchdog. Clare Dean reports.

WANDSWORTH'S celebrations following its High Court win against the admissions adjudicator may be short-lived.

The battle over partial selection in the borough continues and plans are already being drawn up for a fresh challenge.

The new objection would be aimed at admissions to schools in September 2001, said John Valentine, of the Wandsworth-based Campaign for Local Education.

He said he was shocked by last week's High Court decision that the adjudicator acted unlawfully when he ordered a cut in the number of pupils that three secondaries could select on academic ability.

"Wandsworth has found a legal nicety in order to continue this appalling policy, which means children living next to these schools can't go to them," he said.

Mr Justice Sullivan said cuts in partial selection for next September would have resulted in a significant change of character at Ernest Bevin College, Graveney and Burntwood. He also ruled that Peter Downes, the adjudicator, had acted outside his powers.

Both Burntwood and Graveney have won special praise from Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, for being outstanding.

Graveney and Ernest Bevin, which admit half their pupils on academic ability, were told by the adjudictor to cut the figure to 25 per cent. Burntwood faced a cut from 32 per cent to 25 per cent.

The adjudicator imposed the cuts after governors of Honeywell infants and junior schools, whose pupils are candidates for places, objected to the admissions policy.

The governors, along with some Graveney parents, complained that selection was unduly stressful for children and resulted in higher-ability pupils being creamed off from other schools.

Wandsworth council argued that the system had helped to raise standards for pupils of all abilities.

After the court case a spokesman said: "We are absolutely delighted with the result. Schools can carry on selecting at the same proportion as before."

The High-Court hearing coincided with the 11-plus for thousands of Wandsworth children.

And the spokesman said: "It was crucial that we got the decision now because schools are starting to offer places for September."

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator confirmed a fresh objection could be considered and said it would be dealt with by a different adjudicator.

For September 2001 admissions, legislation enables the adjudicator to reduce or abolish selection in response to objections.

But, said Sir Peter Newsam, the chief adjudicator: "It remains in everyone's interest that disagreements over admissions should be settled locally."

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