Excluded pupils condemn school's selection lottery

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The Independent Online
TWO 11-YEAR-OLDS have written to the Prime Minister to protest against a local authority allowing a school to select its pupils by lottery.

Andrew Visser, father of one of them, said the procedure was 'like bingo' and flouted government guidelines issued last summer.

Mr Visser's son, Christopher, has just been denied a place at Habergham High School, a Burnley comprehensive. The school, a former grammar dating from the 16th century, is always heavily oversubscribed and about 100 of the annual 173 places for 11-year-olds are allocated by random selection. Under the lottery system introduced by Lancashire County Council 13 years ago the town is divided into four zones so that children from each area have an equal chance. Application forms are shuffled and numbered by one official while another chooses numbers from a set of random selection tables drawn up by computer and reads them out.

Only children with brothers or sisters already among the 1,114 pupils have an automatic right of entry. Two or three pupils are admitted on social and medical grounds.

Mr Visser said last night: 'All his friends are going to the school and he is heartbroken. We live only five minutes' walk away but he has been allocated a school on the other side of town. It is really upsetting that a child's future should depend on a lottery.' Mr Visser, who says Christopher has also written to John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, plans to appeal.

Mr Patten's guidance, issued last July, says 'access to a school cannot properly be determined by lot . . . Decisions made by lot cannot be tested and leave no basis for appeal.' It suggests distance from home should be a tie-breaker for oversubscribed schools.

Admission criteria commonly used by local authorities include distance from home, siblings at the school, and social and medical reasons.

David Clayton, Habergham's headmaster, said: 'If we became a neighbourhood comprehensive that would infuriate the parents living on the other side of town. Short of becoming academically selective again, there is no neat solution to the problem.'

A recent public meeting had opposed any change.

Mr Clayton said: 'Mr Patten has said he disapproves of random selection but it is not illegal.'