Parental choice puts pressure on selective schools

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The Independent Online
THE NUMBER of applications to London's already over-subscribed grammar and independent schools has increased substantially this year.

Latymer School in Edmonton, north London, a co-educational grammar school, has received 1,300 applications for 180 places, a 10 per cent increase on last year. The Henrietta Barnett School, a girls' grammar in Hampstead, north London, has had 870 applications for 93 places, compared with about 700 last year and 350 three years ago. At North London Collegiate, an independent girls' school in Edgware, north-west London, applications have been rising by 5 per cent a year for the past few years and currently stand at 410 applications for 104 places.

Geoffrey Mills, headmaster of Latymer School, attributed the rise to increased publicity about schools' academic performance, including the Government's national league tables of examination results (published for the first time last autumn), and coverage of 'best schools' in books and newspapers. 'Our school features in all of these,' he said.

Jane de Swiet, headmistress of Henrietta Barnett, agreed that increased emphasis on parental choice in education was a contributory factor, as well as the fact that parents can now apply to schools across local authority boundaries.

'It is getting more difficult to find those girls who really want to come to this school because many now apply to several schools in the area; I do rather resent those who go trotting round like this.'

Mrs de Swiet said that rising applications meant an enormous workload for the school. 'Unlike independent schools, we have no admissions staff to deal with it; even the girls have to help out, for example by stuffing envelopes.'

The recent increase in numbers seems to be a phenomenon largely confined to the London area, where polls have demonstrated greater parental dissatisfaction with state schools than in other parts of the country. Mrs de Swiet said: 'Another reason is that, in most other cities, parents would simply not have this amount of choice; there is a wealth of good schools in north London.'

Blue Coat School in Liverpool, a comprehensive that selects pupils by interview, is oversubscribed because of its excellent academic record, but numbers have remained consistent for the last four or five years, with some 400 applications for about 120 places.

Joan Clanchy, headmistress of North London Collegiate, said that 'increasing anxiety' among parents about their children's education was leading them to apply to a number of schools. 'We are very concerned about this situation because we don't like having to turn children away.'

National league tables, she said, only made matters worse. 'They foster a football team mentality among parents: they want to be attached to a certain team - or school - because it might do well in the league. But that school might not necessarily be the best place for their child.'

Mrs Clanchy added that she hoped schools could co-operate more in the future by sharing exams on the same day to cut the number of pupils applying individually to each school.