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Hot Topics Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Parent control through ballots
Ripon Grammar School
Parents voted to keep selection at Ripon Grammar School
Selection has remained a source of controversy for state-funded schools in England and Northern Ireland - less so in Wales and Scotland where it is almost non-existent.

In England, there are still a handful of local authorities which operate a fully selective system - such as Kent and Buckinghamshire - where pupils sit an 11-plus exam which determines whether they go to a grammar or a secondary modern.

There are around 164 grammar schools in England - and under regulations introduced by the government, local ballots of parents can determine whether or not these schools will remain selective.
164 grammar schools in England

Grammar school system retained in Northern Ireland

No grammar schools in Wales or Scotland

Ballots of parents can change or retain grammar status

The only ballot has been at Ripon Grammar School

Partial selection allows a proportion of children to be admitted by ability

Before such a vote is held, a petition has to be gathered with enough names of parents to trigger a ballot - with the number needed decided by a complex formula laid down by the government.

So far campaigners against grammar schools have only managed to gather enough names to trigger one ballot - in which parents voted for Ripon Grammar School in North Yorkshire to retain grammar status.

Arguments in favour of grammar schools are that they provide an excellent education that stretches academically able pupils, allowing the benefits usually associated with independent schools to be provided at no cost to parents.

Arguments against selection say that the system favours children from more affluent homes and that it "creams off" gifted pupils to the detriment of other local schools - distorting the balance of abilities in non-selective schools.

There have also been protests that grammar schools become magnets for pupils from a wide area, excluding local children and making them travel further afield to find places.

Partial selection

There are many more schools in England which operate "partial selection", in which a proportion of pupils are admitted to state secondary schools on the basis of ability - usually involving a test or interview.

These schools take up to half their pupils on a selective basis, with the remainder of places allocated without selection. However there have been protests from parents against high levels of selection - leading to adjudications from the government's admissions watchdog.

These rulings from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator have in some cases cut the proportion of selected pupils by half - with these rulings themselves becoming the subject of legal challenges from local authorities.

Supporters of partial selection say that these schools offer a distinctive and high-quality education which benefit able pupils - complementing rather than competing with the comprehensive system.

Opponents say that it deprives many local children from attending their nearest schools and that it lowers the numbers of able pupils at other non-selective schools.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the education system has remained broadly selective. This means that most pupils take an 11-plus exam, although if parents want to send their children to non-grammar schools they do not have to take the test.

At present 70% of pupils take the tests, which include questions in English, maths and science. About 37% of pupils win a place in one of Northern Ireland's 72 grammar schools.

In general, grammar schools provide an academic type of education with A-levels at the end of the seventh year, while secondary non-grammar schools follow a curriculum suited to a wider range of aptitudes and abilities.

The Education Minister, Martin McGuinness, has promised to end selection.

See also:

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03 Sep 99 | Education
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