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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 10:24 GMT
Top school criticised over 'selection'
Head Davina Lloyd and students
Head Davina Lloyd and students after GCSE results
One of England's top comprehensive schools has been rapped on the knuckles over the way it chooses its pupils.

The ruling will be closely studied by parents struggling to get their children into popular schools and the schools themselves, which have to set criteria to deal with mountains of applications.

Coopers' Company and Coburn School in Essex has been accused of acting illegally in interviewing children to see if they meet the school's admissions criteria.

A complaint by a parent of a child who was turned down by the school was upheld by the watchdog - the Local Government Ombudsman.

'Fundamental flaw'

The school interviews all candidates.

Last year it had more than 900 applications for the 180 places available.

As a faith school, the school has the right to interview pupils to check a family's commitment to the church.

Ordinary comprehensives are not allowed to interview pupils as a way of deciding who gets a place, although they can - the government says - meet parents and pupils "to exchange information".

They are allowed to select up to 10% of their pupils on aptitude for a particular subject, which can be tested.

The complaint about Coopers' centres on the use of interviews to check whether pupils meet the school's other criteria - that the children's parents actively support the aims of the school and that the children themselves could demonstrate a wide range of interests.

Schools should not interview for any other purpose - certainly not to select the ablest pupils

Department for education
The parent who made the complaint said her son was turned down on the issue of outside interests, although she believed he had shown proof of that.

The ombudsman, Patricia Thomas, said the interview system was fundamentally flawed and did not provide an objective assessment of whether a candidate had met the criteria.

Ms Thomas had angered the school by saying in her report that although Coopers' Company and Coburn School stressed its Christian ethos, it was not strictly a church school.

This was corrected by the department for education, which said Coopers' was a designated faith school and could therefore conduct interviews.

A spokeswoman for the department said: "The school is a designated Christian faith school, and as such they are able to interview in order to assess religious commitment of applicants.

"Schools should not interview for any other purpose - certainly not to select the ablest pupils."

The school - which was top in England for GCSEs last year - says it will continue to interview pupils but will redraft its policy on extra-curricular activities to make it more transparent.

Steve Hogan, the clerk to the school's governors, said: "We will go along with what they said and we will amend our policy.

"We don't accept their interpretation but we will amend it."

See also:

22 Nov 01 | Education
What makes a top school tick
14 Sep 01 | Mike Baker
Tackling the school admissions maze
11 Jul 01 | Education
Parents angry over school places
24 Apr 01 | Education
Admissions cost school 20,000
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