School's bar on ill pupils `unfair'

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PARENTS ARE complaining that an oversubscribed secondary school is being unfair, selecting its pupils according to the number of days they have been absent from primary school.

Two parents have told the Campaign for State Education, the parents' pressure group, that their children were denied places at the Lincoln School of Science and Technology in Lincoln because of illness. One had a sibling at the school.

The school says its policy of picking pupils according to the number of days they have played truant and/or been absent from school in the last full year before they transfer to secondary school is objective, fair and on government guidelines.

But Margaret Tulloch of the Campaign for State Education said: "There may be all sorts of reasons why children are away from school. They may be ill, or school phobics who have overcome their phobia who will be rewarded by being disadvan- taged.

"Even if they have a poor attendance record through truancy at primary schools, it is unfair to label them throughout their school career or to deny them places at a secondary."

The 1,200-pupil school became a specialist college seven years ago and is allowed to decide its admissions policy and select some of its pupils by "aptitude", because it opted out of local authority control.

Steve Davies, the deputy head, said there had been 300 applications this year for a school expected to take 180.

He said there had been "endless" meetings about the best way to admit pupils and he believed the system was fair and objective."We were simply not going to go down the road of testing them for aptitude or selecting them by ability. We want to take a full range of ability. We are opposed to selective education."

Each primary school in Lincoln is allowed to send two pupils per class to the school. He said the school had never intended to be a local comprehensive for local children. It had attracted business sponsorship so that it could become a specialist college and the sponsors had insisted it should take children from a wide area.

David Cordingley, head of one of the feeder primaries for the school and secretary of the local branch of the National Union of Teachers, said he believed that admissions should be determined co-operatively by all the schools in an area.

"I am greatly concerned about the child with some kind of chronic illness or disability being penalised," he said.

He said when he had approached the school about a boy who had been absent because of sporting injuries, it had been most helpful and the boy he had been given a place.

The Department for Education said the school was entitled to decide its own policy because it was grant maintained. A spokeswoman said the department could not comment further without more details.

Under a new code of practice at present before Parliament, schools must ensure their admissions arrangements are objective, fair and published.

Schools will then be required to consult on admissions arrangements every year, and other admissions authorities - for example, other schools and the local authority - can refer complaints to a local adjudicator.