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EDITIONS
Friday, 31 January, 2003, 12:14 GMT
School admissions 'socially divisive'
science classroom
Critics say selective schools do not reflect their communities
Schools which select pupils by ability or religion are perpetuating a polarisation of society between the haves and have-nots, it is claimed.

Almost a third of England's secondary schools do not reflect the relative wealth or poverty of their local communities, according to research by The Education Network (TEN), funded by education authorities.

It accuses ministers of having failed to change school admissions policies which are "socially divisive or even potentially racially discriminatory".

And it says the findings suggest grammar schools are often not catering for clever children from poor families.

They have been released to set the scene for a conference on Monday aimed at improving secondary school admissions arrangements - one of the most fraught aspects of the education system for students and parents.

Grammar and church schools

TEN used the standard poverty indicator of pupils' eligibility for free school meals.

It says that in 30% of schools the proportion of pupils eligible for free meals was either less than half or more than double the figure for the school's local education authority (LEA).

In one fifth of cases it was less than half, in a tenth it was more than double.

The proportion of poorer students tended to be low in grammar or church schools.

Sixty-one schools had only 1% or less of their pupils entitled to free school meals.

Three-quarters of these were grammar schools, which TEN says "are plainly not catering for many bright children from poor families".

Growing gap

Between 2000 and 2002, the overall proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals had fallen, TEN said - but the proportion of schools at the extremes was growing.

And the advantaged group was growing twice as fast as the disadvantaged (from 19.1% to 20.5%, as opposed to 9.7% to 10.0%).

"This is clear evidence of continuing polarisation - despite the government' s commitment to social cohesion and social justice," says TEN's report.

Spokesman Martin Rogers said the three main causes of polarisation were selection by examination and by religious faith, and the competitive market driven by school league tables.

'Missed opportunity'

Ministers had reviewed admissions arrangements prior to the 2002 Education Act and the new admissions code of practice, but had rejected options which would have helped to reverse the trend.

"In particular, they decided against extending to parents the right to refer objections to the adjudicator directly about a range of practices which are socially divisive or even potentially racially discriminatory."

They later resisted attempts to amend the Bill to that effect.

So objections can be referred to the admissions adjudicator only by education authorities or schools.

"Hopefully, they will change their minds before too long," Mr Rogers said.

"Undoubtedly there would be resistance to such a move from the schools employing such practices, and it may be that they successfully lobbied against it - possibly even going over education ministers' heads."

See also:

30 Jan 03 | Education
14 Feb 03 | Education
14 Feb 03 | Education
17 Jan 03 | Education
10 Mar 00 | Education
04 Nov 99 | Education
13 Dec 02 | Education
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