Nightmare for parents over school choice

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The Independent Online
Choosing a secondary school will become a nightmare for parents as the Government's proposals for more selection turn admissions into a free- for-all, headteachers said yesterday.

Angry members of both headteachers' organisations lambasted the plans on the eve of the speech by Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, to the Conservative party conference.

Most parents would have less, not more choice, they said, because schools would be choosing parents. They would have to make many more applications and get to grips with different admissions arrangements and selection tests for every school. Appeals to admissions panels would rocket.

The Secondary Heads Association said it had not been so angry about a White Paper for 20 years. The proposals for schools to select up to half their pupils were "undemocratic and unfair". Individual schools would be able to select more pupils without reference to the rest of the community.

The National Association of Head Teachers said different types of school would be able to select 20 to 50 per cent of their pupils. Parents would have to make multiple applications to hedge their bets "entering their child for a variety of selection tests, criteria hurdles and interviews to safeguard against not getting their first choice".

Bruce Douglas, the secondary heads' vice-president, said: "This unplanned selection means the return of the secondary modern school and that doesn't seem to us to serve the needs of the 21st century."

The secondary heads, including those running grant-maintained schools, said they were furious about the denigration in the White Paper of the many successful local authority-run comprehensives.

In a paper, they warned that such schools would "at a stroke be sacrificed on the altar of dogmatism". "There is not a scrap of evidence that the most able children cannot and do not achieve the best of which they are capable in non-selective schools, and a great deal of evidence from successful schools that the opposite is true."

Struggling inner-city schools would not get the support they needed. The measures would "encourage even more parents of able children to transport them across cities to schools in more privileged environments".

The selection proposals were "incoherent, unfair, divisive, cost-ineffective, administratively burdensome and potentially gender-biased".

Because girls do better in tests than boys, more selection would lead to the creation of sink schools filled with disaffected and demoralised boys.

The secondary heads say they are not against selection per se. Their president, Peter Miller, deputy head of the grant maintained school, Wrenn in Northampton, said: "We are against this unplanned and undemocratic extension of selection where individual schools can make their own decision and there's no mechanism for involving the rest of the community."

Both associations query whether parents are clamouring for more selection.