Leading article: Best effort yet to tackle selection

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The Independent Online

The trouble with trying to outlaw selection by stealth is that every time you take action to stop one abuse of school admission procedures, you open up another potential loophole for heads to exploit. Such is the case with the draft code on admissions drawn up by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, in a bid to placate rebel Labour MPs who believe that the Government's trust schools will bring back selection via the back door.

Predictably, the draft code bars interviews with parents before admission. It also prohibits sending supplementary question forms to the parents of would-be applicants asking them about their private lives - in other words, their marital status or occupation. In addition, the code calls on schools not to do exclusive deals over uniforms with expensive high street outfitters unless there are subsidies for the poorest parents. They are also being told to make it clear that parents are not expected to pay for school trips - only voluntary contributions.

However, parents will still be able to go to open meetings at the school to check out its offerings. So it will not be impossible for the schools to build up a picture of their potential clients.

Having said that, the draft code - which will be legally binding - is the best attempt yet to tackle the problem of selection by stealth. It is much stronger than the existing code, and Ms Kelly deserves congratulations for that. She has listened to her critics. As a result, there are at least 10 forbidden territories that schools must not enter, all designed to ensure they do not skew their admissions policies in favour of children they suspect will give them a good showing in exam league tables.

The big question for Tony Blair, though, is whether the code will be strong enough to win back the support of enough rebel MPs. Will the PM be able to get his flagship Bill through the Commons now without having to rely on Conservative support? We suspect not. Many Labour MPs want an end to all selection rather than tinkering about with a code that affects only covert selection.

They will never win that battle, however. Instead, they should note the fact that this code will make it more difficult for supposedly non-selective schools to cherry-pick their intake - and give thanks for that.

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