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Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 20:39 GMT
Grammar ballot divides parents
The result of the first ballot on grammar schools is to be published on Friday evening - after a campaign that has divided parents in the north Yorkshire town of Ripon.
Jerry Ibbotson has spoken to some of the pupils and parents who will be affected by the result.
Every morning at around 7.30am, 15-year-old Kate Atkins leaves the family home in Ripon and walks to the bus stop. An hour spent winding through the country lanes of north Yorkshire is the price she pays for choosing to go to a comprehensive school in this part of England's biggest county.
"I don't think it's right," she said, "because children are divided by how bright they are. At my school there's a mixture of children with different abilities and I respect children that are good at stuff and bad at stuff.
"We end up getting really good GCSEs that are just below the Grammar school and they have the top 30% of students - so why can't it work in Ripon?"
Kate's views echo among those who want to see the end of grammar schools in towns like Ripon. Claire Humphries, who has three children, wants to see a change.
"I'd like to see the 11-plus scrapped because the system is unfair," she said. "Some children are only 10 when they take it and many do very poorly on a one day test, while they may do much better in tests later on."
She thinks the current system divides youngsters unnecessarily, "I'd like to see a comprehensive here in Ripon," she told me, "It would be a much better idea than splitting children up at 10, when they may well change in their teens."
It's claimed that around 35% of children in Ripon travel out of the city to go to school, because of the current selective system.
Twelve year old Thomas Gilbert is one - he has to add two hours travelling time on to his school day after failing the 11-plus and choosing to go to a comprehensive instead of the City School, Ripon's only alternative to the grammar School.
"I don't think it's fair because you might not be clever at 10 or 11 but you might learn better at 13 or 14."
The Grammar School itself is on a leafy road heading out of the city. An impressive clock tower stands above buildings that have been used as a school for 400 years.
Business as usual
It is a place where high standards are expected by headteacher Alan Jones. But whatever feelings he may have about the ballot, he's had to keep them to himself over recent weeks.
He stresses that his staff have made every effort to distance the issue from day to day teaching. "It's been business as usual." he said, "We've just got on with the day to day work of running the school and tried very hard not to let it distract the pupils."
At the end of the school's long drive however, many of the pupils heading home are quite happy to voice their opinions. This is, after all, a ballot that could see children of all abilities sharing their classes.
"I don't think it will make any real difference," said one 15 year old girl. "Even if it turns into one big comprehensive, they'll still have to separate people into streams."
Another girl added her views "I came into the sixth form here from a comprehensive. It's better for me, because before I didn't really have the chance to do the best of my abilities, whereas here I can."
But one boy could see some benefits if local parents do vote 'Yes' to abandoning the 11-plus. "It's limited what you can do here, particularly in the sixth form," he said. " There are no GNVQs or anything like that. Comprehensives seem to be better and give more choice."
One parent with a special interest in the outcome of the ballot is Simon Grenfell. He's seen four of his children educated at Ripon Grammar School and he's now the Chairman of the Governors. To him it's a simple case of not tinkering with a winning formula. "If it isn't broke, then don't fix it."
Although he feels that if Ripon's education system were being designed from scratch today, then a comprehensive school might well be a viable option, for him the Grammar School should remain as it is.
"The school is the kind of place where pupils who might not have done so well elsewhere - even though they were clever enough to pass the 11 plus - often do exceptionally well. It has that sort of atmosphere."
Across the city, Kate Atkins is back home after another long journey from her comprehensive in Harrogate. She's as certain as Simon Grenfell about the type of school she'd like to see in Ripon, "One that everyone goes to - a comprehensive."
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