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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 July, 2004, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
School choice 'causes distress'
The report highlights parents' worries about school admissions
Parents are facing frustration and distress trying to find suitable state secondary school places for their children, MPs say.

A Commons committee says it is almost impossible for parents, particularly in cities, to have any certainty they will get their preferred school place.

The report calls for a more consistent, legally-binding admissions code.

It says selection by aptitude and the interviewing of children and their parents should cease.


The education select committee report also calls for the scrapping of the grammar school ballot system - though not, as some newspaper articles had suggested, grammar schools themselves.

It is all but impossible for parents, particularly in urban areas, to exercise their preference with any degree of certainty about the likely result.
Education select committee

"Far from being an empowering strategy the school admissions process, founded on parental preference, can prove a frustrating and time-consuming cause of much distress in the lives of many families," says the report, Secondary Education: School Admissions.

"It is all but impossible for parents, particularly in urban areas, to exercise their preference with any degree of certainty about the likely result."

It challenges previous claims that more than nine out of 10 families get their first preference school - saying this disguises the number who make tactical applications and do not even apply to their "favourite" school.

Appeals against decisions

Identifying a much higher level of parental dissatisfaction, the report says that in one London borough, Enfield, more than half of all admissions decisions lead to appeals.

Ministers say specialist schools are popular with parents and get higher results

Nationally, appeals have more than doubled since the mid-1990s.

The report says parents want a more transparent and consistent process.

This could mean more standardised application systems - such as the one-stop process being introduced next year for state schools in London.

And it says the current guidelines for admissions, introduced in 1999, should be legally binding.

It supports the removal of interviewing families as a factor in offering places - and calls for city technology colleges to be integrated into local admissions systems.

Much of the conflict over school places comes where popular schools are over-subscribed and schools have to choose between applicants.

The report shows that at present the overwhelming majority use factors such as whether a brother or sister is already at the school, distance from the school and any specific medical or social need.

It says the "sibling rule" should be altered so that if families move out of the area, they no longer get priority.

Selection challenge

It also proposes a different set of priorities, headed by applicants with special needs or children in care.

The report also says selection distorts local school choice - and it accuses the government of inconsistency in the apparent shift towards greater selection.

Specialist schools can select up to 10% of pupils by aptitude - and the report says this should be withdrawn.

Although only about one in 20 specialists use selection, some Labour backbenchers fear it leaves open the door to widespread selection in the future.

The report says the current local ballot system on the future of grammar schools should be scrapped as it asks the "wrong question of the wrong people".

But the report's conclusions avoid the politically-charged issues of how greater "consumer choice" might be introduced.


And many of its proposals would affect only a minority of parents.

There are only 14 city technology colleges, 164 grammar schools, only 2% of schools use interviews and an estimated 2% select by aptitude.

This report, by a Labour-dominated select committee, rightly shows that parents are upset, misled, let down and betrayed by the present system of largely theoretical choice.
Tim Collins, shadow education secretary

Conservative committee member Andrew Turner put forward separate conclusions, including the proposal that parents should be able to use state funds for an independent education.

The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, said: "We will consider carefully this important report from the select committee and respond in due course."

His Conservative shadow, Tim Collins, said parents felt upset, misled, let down and betrayed.

"The committee are, however, just plain wrong to conclude that the answer is to tell parents that they cannot have choice and should just lump it."

Paul Holmes, a Liberal Democrat on the select committee, said parents did not want the "spurious choice" offered by Labour and the Tories.

"What parents want are good schools in the local neighbourhood."

The National Union of Teachers echoed the report's concern about "selection by stealth" and said the "obsession with so-called choice" had undermined the code on admissions.

The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson
"Some parents took extreme measures"

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Grammar schools reject changes
19 Jul 04 |  Education


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