Parents take schools battle to the polls

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of parents will stand against Labour councillors in the May local government elections in protest against the Government's decision to allow schools to select a proportion of pupils by ability.

Parents in the London borough of Wandsworth say that children there are being damaged because they may have to take as many as seven tests to secure a school place. Some children of even average ability have no chance of a place at their local school.

All 10 Wandsworth secondary schools require pupils to take either a test or to be interviewed because they operate some form of selection. Two are church schools which select by interview and three have a banding system and take 20 per cent of children from each of five ability bands. The rest use tests to select some pupils by aptitude of ability.

Legislation now before the Commons will allow such partial selection to continue. All schools will be able to select up to 10 per cent of their pupils for special aptitude, for example in music or art. Parents in areas such as Hertfordshire and the London borough of Bromley have already protested against partial selection policies, introduced by the last government, which allow schools to select up to 50 per cent of pupils. Ministers say that, under the Bill, local adjudicators on admissions will be able to stop partial selection if parents complain that it is causing chaos.

Caroline Holden, one of eight Wandsworth parents who intends to stand for election, said: "My 10-year-old son is dyslexic and will be applying to secondary school next year. I have to decide whether to enter him for these tests knowing that his confidence and morale will plummet."

Mrs Holden can see one of the borough's most popular schools, Graveney, from her house but fears that her son will have no chance of getting in. Half of the pupils are selected by ability and this year the remaining places were taken up by children who already have siblings at the school.

Mark Barnard's daughter, Rebecca, 11, lives about 200 yards from the school, but did not pass the test. "We are pretty annoyed. We moved here from Lambeth because of the education." Now Rebecca, who took tests for five different schools, will have to take two buses to reach Chestnut Grove school.

Sarah Forester, whose son, Jim, passed the test for Graveney this year, says the admissions process was so traumatic that she wants to protect other children from the experience. "It is really abusive of children. I took a conscious decision not to put him in for too many tests. He did three and passed them all but some children do six tests and still have no school place at the end of it. You are not guaranteed a place in any school.

"Jim is a changed child since he passed the test. He has been so unhappy. He showed no interest in his friends or out-of-school activities. He was very easily upset."

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, says comments in December by David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, in the Commons that "part of our admissions policy will remove partial selection where it exists" contradict the Bill.

"The Government has done a massive U-turn on this. The situation in Wandsworth is a disgrace."