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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK


Battle over Barnet's grammar schools

Emotions are running high over the future of selective education

The battle over England's grammar schools is hotting up, as campaigners prepare for a long fight to try to abolish selective education.

In some areas of the country, they have already submitted formal requests to the Electoral Reform Ballot Services (ERBS) to identify which parents are entitled to sign petitions to trigger ballots.

The BBC's Education Correspondent James Westhead: "The school's pupils are the cream of the state sector"
One of those areas is Barnet, north London, where there are three grammar schools, including Queen Elizabeth's Boys' School.

The school, founded in 1573, achieves high A level and GCSE scores and wants to keep its selection procedure.

Headmaster Dr John Marincowitz is proud of the school's history, and fears its culture of achievement will be destroyed if it becomes open to everyone.

"There is outrage in many quarters at the prospect of this fine school being tampered with," he said.

Huge challenge

"A culture of success, a culture of excellence, high achievement, those are things that are multi-faceted, problematic steps that take a long time to achieve."

But while pupils who score highly in their 11-plus tests are admitted to the school, few local children can ever hope to get in unless their parents succeed in turning the school comprehensive.

Campaigners have started to distribute leaflets and posters to try to drum up support and add names to their petition.

They need to get the signatures of 6,000 parents of pupils at the 70 primary schools which supply children to Barnet's grammar schools in order to trigger a ballot.

Campaigner Jenny Brown, who says her argument is not with the school but with a system which excludes children, admits it is a huge challenge.

'War zone'

She said: "Thousands of children sit the tests at each of these schools, but the odds are against them getting in and I genuinely believe that that has an emotional effect on the children who fail, it has an effect on the children who don't sit, it has an effect on the schools that those children then enter in Year 7.

"It is a nightmare. Every parent wants the best for their children. We all do."

However, some parents of children living outside the area say they want the school to stay selective, as their children would otherwise stand no chance of getting in.

Accusations of misinformation have already started flying between the opposing camps.

Ms Brown said: "We had no idea we were entering a war zone. It's very contentious, very emotional, because what is more important than our children?"

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