THE Government's admissions watchdog has struck a blow against academic selection, ordering two schools to abandon the practice and telling others to cut down on the number of pupils they select.
In two landmark rulings, the independent adjudicators on school admissions have instructed two grant-maintained schools in Croydon to scrap their policy of selecting some pupils by ability.
A further three schools in Conservative-controlled Wandsworth, London, were told to select a smaller proportion of their intake.
The politically sensitive rulings have been keenly awaited by both sides in the battle over selection by ability or aptitude.
They come as Department for Education and Employment figures reveal a 15 per cent increase in the number of appeals lodged by parents over secondary places.
However, the number of appeals from primary school places has dropped compared to last year.
The Wandsworth schools
Burntwood and Ernest Bevin, which select half of their pupils, and Graveney, which select 30 per cent, have now been told they will only be allowed to select 25 per cent from September 2000.
Peter Downes, the adjudicator, fought shy of ending selection completely because of the complex arrangements in Wandsworth, where most schools select.
Graveney, which is above the national average for top GCSEs, said it needed to select, as competition from private and other state schools meant that many able children were going elsewhere.
But Mr Downes said selection at Graveney must have had "some adverse effect" on the other local comprehensives.
He also ruled that brothers and sisters who would previously been automatically allocated a place at the Wandsworth schools would now have to sit a test.
In Croydon, Norbury Manor girls' high and Coulsdon high, which both selected 15 per cent of their pupils, have been told to stop by September 2000.
Other schools in the borough are awaiting decisions over objections to partial selection.
Governors at Norbury Manor have already warned of a "brain drain of local pupils into highly-
selective schools nearby" if they were not allowed to select.
There is no right of appeal over the adjudicator's decisions, although the parties can seek a judicial review.
Further decisions are expected shortly about admissions arrangements in Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Derbyshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Northamptonshire and Surrey. They are largely about partial selection.
An analysis by The TES of the latest government figures on appeals place Wandsworth and Croydon in the top 20 boroughs with the most complaints about secondary admissions.
The London borough of Enfield heads the list, followed by Bury, Westminster, Blackpool, Newham and South Gloucestershire.