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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
North West: Selective schools
Michelle Mayman
The Politics Show North West

Secondary class
Arguments for and against selection by schools

The Politics Show North West examines the merits - or de-merits - of selection in education.

David Chaytor MP for Bury North is proposing an amendment to the Education Bill which will ban selection on the basis of ability.

This would mean an end to Grammar Schools as we know them.

We visited Lancaster to see Pamela Barber, Head teacher of the Lancaster Grammar School for Girls.

Pamela is rightly proud of her school and her girls.

A recent Ofsted report said: "The school has an excellent climate for learning and sets very high standards both in terms of academic achievement and personal development."

Children labelled?

In her 19 years at the school Pamela Barber has heard the arguments for and against selection many times over and she maintains that it is right to give those who are able a chance to succeed.

The criticism most often levelled at Grammar Schools is that the system labels some children failures - but is that any reason to hold back those who are able?

However the idea that children can pass the entrance exam, commonly known as the 11+, on ability alone is being questioned.

It seems that many children are coached towards the exam - particularly the verbal reasoning element of the test - and that comes with a price tag.

Academic achievement

The private tutors are particularly busy at this time of year and tend to see pupils through to the exam in November 2006.

It can add up to hundreds of pounds worth of extra tuition.

And what effect does the presence of a Grammar School have on the share of academic achievement in an area?

Anthony McNamara is the Head teacher of St Augustine's RC High School at Billington in Lancashire.

It is a state school which performs well and Ofsted says: "This is a good school with some outstanding features.

"Standards are above the national average and pupils make good progress during their time at the school."

But St Augustine's is in the shadow of a nearby Grammar School which skews the share of able pupils in the area.

Eleven-plus poser

Mr McNamara thinks local schools results could be even better if the cream of the local intake was not skimmed off by the Grammar School.

And the Grammar schools provide a particular headache for the Lancashire Education Authority.

Parents will often put the Grammar School as their first choice - before they have their child's 11+ results.

If the child fails the exam they will often find their second choice and even third choice is already full up.

This leads to a prolonged appeals process.

Graham Brady MP (Conservative, Altrincham and Sale West) who says he is passionate about Grammar Schools, and David Chaytor join us to discuss the issue.

Expect a lively debate.

Also on the programme: School trips

It is the time of year when thousands of children across the North West are preparing for the annual school trip.

It might be a visit to the local museum or a weeks residential at an outdoor adventure centre.

But over the past few years educational visits have been shrouded in controversy.

It seems that teachers have been less inclined to organise trips as they are fearful of being held responsible if an accident does happen.

When in 2002 10-year-old Max Palmer died on a trip to the Lake District and teacher Paul Ellis was subsequently jailed for 12 months, teaching unions called for change.

According to teachers in the North West things have improved.

Local Education Authorities now have strict guidelines on how school trips are run, and offer advice and support to teachers organising one.

Each school now has to have an Educational Visits Coordinator and the LEA has to approve certain trips before they go ahead.

The Head teacher at Ansdell Primary School in St Annes, Richard Redcliffe, is taking 60 children to Hayling Island for a residential trip.

Mr Redcliffe says that once you have filled in all the paperwork (and are not put off by the amount) then he actually feels a lot more secure and protected as he knows everything has been properly risk-assessed.

Case in point

Jim Hancock and Gill Dummigan
Jim Hancock presents Politics Show North West with Gill Dummigan

We also report from the YMCA centre in Lakeside who say that over the past few years they have seen a drop in the number of school parties visiting, on which they blame an increasingly litigious society.

They claim that children need to learn about danger in a controlled environment, and that outdoor activities are an essential part of growing up.

The Politics Show

Join Jim Hancock and Gill Dummigan on the Politics Show on Sunday 21 May 2006 at 12.00pm on BBC One.

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