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Mixed reaction to new 11-plus ruling

PARENTS who feared their children could be prevented from taking Kent’s 11-plus this year because of a change in KCC’s admissions arrangements have benefited from an about-turn. In a fresh ruling affecting more than 12,000 children, the Government-appointed Schools Adjudicator has said the county council's decision to test only those children whose first preference is for a grammar school was not in the best interests of all parents and children.

Adjudicator June Brown said all parents who wished their child to take the 11-plus should be allowed to do so – effectively, the system Kent used to operate. The new ruling threatens to throw KCC’s secondary school admissions plans for 2002 into disarray.

Nevertheless, many parents have greeted the news with relief. They had complained they were being compelled to gamble on their child’s future. Others, however, notably high schools and anti-selection campaigners, expressed dismay. They complained the decision means Kent will revert to a system giving parents of children taking the 11-plus a double first choice. Some are considering whether a legal challenge can be mounted.

KCC’s original decision was based on an earlier ruling by the Schools Adjudicator in July. He said the authority should standardise its admissions policy so parents expressed a preference for a school before knowing the outcome of the 11-plus test.

In response to that ruling, KCC said parents who opted for a non-selective school first and a grammar second would not be allowed to take the test if offered a place at their first choice school.

However, this policy was then challenged by three grammar schools who complained KCC had over-interpreted the School’s Adjudicator ruling. The adjudicator June Brown, has upheld their challenge. In her report, she says: “The LEA has taken the view that it should change its position on testing from one which excludes some of them; namely the group of parents who have expressed a first preference for a non-selective school and have been offered a place at that school.

“The assumption being made is that if a genuine first preference has been met there would be little purpose in subsequently testing a child for entry to some other school. This approach is not illogical but I do not consider it to be in the best interests of all parents and children in the area.”

She went on to say that under KCC’s proposals, grammar schools might end up with unfilled places “albeit unintentionally.”

Reaction to the decision has varied. John Caperon, the headteacher of the Bennett Memorial School in Tunbridge Wells and a member of the Kent Association of All Ability Schools, said: “The situation is now completely bewildering. In my view, to manage the system efficiently KCC should operate within the system they have already set up. There will be many parents who have already made their choice and I shudder to think at the chaos which this will cause.”

Anthony Stanton, the head of the Simon Langton Girls Grammar School and chairman of the Kent and Medway Grammar Schools Association, said:

“Under KCC’s proposals, there was no way in which a preference for a selective school was being considered properly. The agonising choice parents faced has now been removed.”

KCC’s Conservative cabinet member for schools Cllr Leyland Ridings, denying the authority had got its earlier decision wrong, said: “When we looked at the original ruling we sought legal advice and asked whether our interpretation was fair. Even now, the adjudicator has agreed that our decision was not illogical. I cannot see that we can be blamed for getting it wrong.”

Some grammars warned they could close if parents opted to play safe and elect to go for a good high school rather than gamble on their child passing the 11-plus.

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