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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 10:22 GMT
Objectors win 11-plus row
The education authorities in Kent have been thwarted in their plan to let parents choose their children's schools after getting their 11-plus exam results.
Campaigners against selection said this would have allowed parents who wanted a grammar school for their child to have a second "first preference" if the child failed the exam.
The Schools Adjudicator has upheld objections by 13 comprehensive and high schools.
The adjudicator, Sir Peter Newsam, said the issues involved were complex - but on balance he was in favour of letting all parents express their preference before the exam results were known.
STEP, the parents' group campaigning to Stop The Eleven-Plus in Kent, had argued that parents who wanted selective education should accept the verdict of the exam - sending their children to grammar school if they passed and to secondary modern if they did not.
Thirteen of Kent's schools objected to its proposed timing.
The adjudicator said that if selection tests were held first, as Kent had proposed, parents would be invited to express in March their preference for the school their child would attend the following September.
If preferences preceded selection tests they could be expressed - as they are in much of the county at present - in November.
"The main argument for holding selection tests first is that it enables parents whose children do not pass the selective tests to express a first preference for a non-selective community or denominational school knowing that there would be little point in applying to a selective school," said a statement from Sir Peter's office.
"The main argument for inviting preferences before holding selection tests is that schools that are not academically selective ... will know that parents who express a preference for them really want to go to them rather than deciding to apply only once they know their children have not passed the tests for a selective school."
It was evident that Kent had paid close attention to the issue of the timing and fairness of its arrangements - and that the objectors had reached directly opposed conclusions.
"After considering both sides of the question, the adjudicator decided, on balance, in favour of enabling all parents to express their preference in November rather than causing many to have to wait until March of the following year to know which secondary school their child will attend."
Victory for authority
But Kent had also lodged objections with the adjudicator in an effort to get a co-ordinated set of admission arrangements across the whole county.
"Kent's arrangements go a long way to achieving such a system and the adjudicator has upheld the LEA's objections to the published arrangements of schools which conflict with it," Sir Peter's office said.
So the principle of having a uniform set of arrangements has been backed.
Kent County Council said in a statement that it would be studying closely the adjudicator's decision that parents must choose their schools before the 11-plus results were known.
Leyland Ridings, cabinet member for schools, said he was pleased the adjudicator had come out in support of a single set of admissions arrangements.
"This is an extremely complex issue in which we have tried to achieve consistency for all parents and pupils across the county.
"We carried out a very wide consultation and more than 80% of those consulted supported our proposal."
The decision was very similar to those on other cases, such as in Torbay and Wirral education authorities, he added.
This is something which had annoyed the anti-selection campaigners, who say Kent wasted public money on a futile exercise when the adjudicator was likely to rule the same way.
STEP's Martin Frey said: "It's so nice to get this result. It's educationally right.
"As a governor I'm just so relieved that I'm not going to be sitting on admissions appeals panels telling parents who really, really want to come to my school that we have to admit 40 who really, really don't want to come but have failed the 11-plus," he said.
The anti-selection campaigners did begin drawing up a petition with a view to getting a parental ballot on whether selection should remain.
But they abandoned that effort last September, claiming the process set up by the government was unfair.
There has been only one such ballot - in Ripon, North Yorkshire, where parents voted to keep selection.
In England, only Kent and Buckinghamshire still operate county-wide selection systems.
Northern Ireland's wholly-selective system is under review. There is no selection in Scotland or Wales.
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