Many schools 'selecting by stealth' to boost standing in league tables

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Some schools are selecting pupils by stealth despite mounting pressure on the Government to end the practice, according to research released yesterday.

Some schools are selecting pupils by stealth despite mounting pressure on the Government to end the practice, according to research released yesterday.

A study by the London School of Economics and Political Science highlights church and former grant- maintained schools as the most likely to "select in" the pupils likely to boost their ratings in exam league tables.

It adds that the Government's new specialist secondary schools are three times more likely to select their pupils than so-called "bog-standard" comprehensives.

Parents are being questioned on topics including their occupation, the study says. One in six church voluntary-aided schools still questions pupils before deciding to admit them – a practice to be banned in a code that will come into force in September 2005. One in ten also interviews their parents.

They do not stick to questions on their religious background – the reason given by many church schools for conducting interviews. Instead, they question them on whether their child will be "in harmony" with the ethos of the school or whether they have the "potential to benefit from a small school with a caring atmosphere".

The research, by Professor Anne West, director of the LSE's Centre for Educational Research, found that voluntary-aided church schools and former grant-maintained schools were the categories most likely to have partial "select in and select out" policies when choosing pupils.

The Government's new specialist schools were three times more likely to engage in "covert selection" than community comprehensives, with 6 per cent selecting a proportion of their pupils, her report added.

The research showed that 8.8 per cent of voluntary-aided and former grant-maintained now turned foundation schools operated a partial selection policy – as opposed to 0.3 per cent of community comprehensive or voluntary-controlled church schools.

Yesterday's report coincides with a growing clamour for the Labour Party to commit itself to end selection in schools. The former cabinet minister Frank Dobson began a campaign last month for the party to pledge in its next election manifesto to abolish selection.

* University vice-chancellors will warn today, in a report for Universities UK, that students are likely to opt for the cheapest courses at the least expensive universities in response to the Government's decision to allow differential fees for different courses.

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