MINISTERS have been urged by a Kent MP to set up an independent public inquiry into Kent's selective system of schooling. The call comes after the publication of last week's secondary school league tables.
They revealed that while standards overall were slightly above the national average, there continues to be a wide gulf between the county's selective and non-selective schools.
Kent also has the unenviable distinction of having one of the worst schools in the country, The Ramsgate School in Thanet. Labour MP Dr Steve Ladyman, who represents Thanet South, described the county's 11-plus as "corrosive and evil" and said it was time the Government set up an investigation into standards in Kent's secondary schools.
Dr Ladyman wants ministers to order an inquiry which would run along the same lines as one recently conducted by an independent commission into Northern Ireland's 11-plus. Its report recently recommended the country's grammar school system be abandoned and replaced by one in which pupils were continuously assessed up to the age of 11 to base decisions on.
Dr Ladyman said: "It is time to scrap selection and create decent, quality comprehensive schools that give everyone a fair chance. If we are serious about giving every child a good start and serious about schools like the Ramsgate School, then we should order an inquiry into selection in Kent," he stressed.
Schools minister Stephen Timms was non-committal about the idea when challenged by Dr Ladyman in a debate last week. Campaigners from both anti-selection and pro-selection groups said they would be happy to see an independent inquiry. Martin Frey of STEP - Stop The Eleven Plus - said: "Although Kent has not lost any ground this year, it has not made any progress in catching up with similar authorities. We are still being overtaken by counties like Cornwall which have a comprehensive system."
Keith Williams, of the Rochester Math School in Medway and spokesman for Support Kent Schools, said an investigation was not needed. He added: "Since there has been a resounding defeat for anti-selection campaigners who tried to initiate a ballot, it's not surprising they are trying to undermine the system. Those of us who believe in selection would not have a problem in defending it at any inquiry."