Watchdog may sniff out selection mystery

16th July 1999 at 01:00
The new schools adjudicator's caseload is dominated by a single issue, reports Chris Bunting.

THE FUTURE of partial selection in schools is in doubt as the new admissions watchdog, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, begins work.

Decisions on the admissions arrangements of 46 schools in 12 education authorities are expected to start being announced within the month, and referrals are still coming in.

Sir Peter Newsam, the lead adjudicator, said schools where a proportion of pupils are selected were dominating his caseload, with three-quarters of objections targeting the issue.

He was not surprised by this trend, as the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act excludes the principle of grammar school selection from his office's remit. But the absence of objections to interviews of children and parents before admission to schools was unexpected.

He said: "We have had very, very little on the subject of interviewing. The code is very positive on the issue: it doesn't like it."

Two of the three cases not involving partial selection concern schools contesting the increased admission limits of neighbouring institutions. Torbay Council is defending an objection from one of its schools to the council's policy of informing parents of their children's 11-plus results before they choose their preferred schools.

Sir Peter said he had received a large number of referrals from parents, but many had been ruled invalid because they did not fall within his office's jurisdiction.

He said: "At the moment, it is fairly early days. I think what will happen is that, when the judgments come out, people will get an idea of what the office will accept and what it will not."

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator was set up under the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act to make final decisions on admissions disputes between local authorities, parents and schools.

Its team of 16 independent adjudicators has the power to order changes if, among other things, admissions arrangements harm the interests of local children or seriously disrupt the school system in an area.

Parents' objections can only be heard if they involve selection and are from groups of more than 10 families of primary-aged children living within three miles of a relevant school. There is no right of appeal over the adjudicator's decisions, although parties can seek judicial review.

Margaret Tulloch, from the Campaign for State Education, said the adjudicators' stance on partial selection would have an important impact on the few areas in which the practice was concentrated.

She hoped the adjudicators would help to clear up some of the mystery surrounding partial selection in schools. Currently, it was not even clear how many schools partially selected.

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