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SCHOOLS ADJUDICATOR WAS 'CLEARLY CORRECT' TO MOVE GOALPOSTS ON MUSICAL APTITUDE ADMISSIONS

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Two of the nation's most popular state schools today won their High Court fight to select 35% of their pupils on th...
Two of the nation's most popular state schools today won their High Court fight to select 35% of their pupils on the basis of academic ability.

Mr Justice Collins struck a blow for selective schools when he overturned a school adjudicator's dictat that the Watford Grammar Schools for Girls and Boys must cut their ability intake to 25%.

He said the adjudicator had failed to consider whether there were other, less drastic, means of 'achieving the objective he considered desirable' - more places at the schools for local children.

There had been no objections from local parents about the admissions criteria at the schools which had already been told by another adjudicator in 1999 that it had to cut its ability intake from 50% to 35%.

The judge overturned the adjudicator's decision, made in July this year, so that Watford Grammar School for Girls and Watford Grammar School for Boys can stick with the 35% figure for their 2004 pupil intakes.

The schools have achieved top exam results for more than 300 years, but feared that could all change because of the decision of adjudicator for schools, Dr Philip Hunter.

Objections to pupil selection by the schools had been put in by Westfield Technical Community College and Greenfields School who complained that the most academically able pupils were being 'creamed off'.

Dr Hunter had rejected that complaint, but still ordered the schools to cut their ability intake on the basis that local children denied places were having to travel miles to alternative schools.

The Watford Grammar Schools for Girls and Boys had already been tol d in 1999 to cut their ability selection intake by 50% to 35% and saw the latest order to slash it again, to 25%, as a threat to their academic excellence.

The other schools that objected to their selection criteria, argued the most gifted pupils were being 'creamed off' and that local children denied places were being forced to travel miles to alternative schools.

The priority given by the schools to siblings and their 'traditional' catchment areas also meant that local parents had 'little chance' of winning places for their children, they complained.

Mr Justice Collins also noted the higher property prices in the area around the schools - which, despite their names, are not technically 'grammar schools' - and the below average number of pupils requiring free school meals.

The boys school, established in 1704, expected an intake of 180 new pupils in September 2004, 60% of which would come from Watford and 40% from the wider 'traditional area' covered by the school.

Of the total intake, the school wanted 55% to be made up of 'community, non-specialist' places, 10% chosen for their musical aptitude - the school has a strong musical tradition - and 35% for their academic ability.

The judge said that, of the 103 'local' applicants for places at the girls school in this academic year, 59 had been rejected, many of whom had to travel to alternative schools more than three miles from their homes.

There had, however, been no objection to the schools' admissions criteria from local parents - only from other schools in the area.

Dr Hunter had rejected claims that the schools were 'creaming off' the most gifted pupils, but nevertheless directed a cut in the ability intake so that more local children would be admitted.

He said that, in his view, the reduction in selection intake would not damage the schools' 'academic character'.

Overturning the adjudicator's decision, Mr Justice Collins said he had not considered whether his desired objective of more places for local children could be achieved by making other changes to the admissions criteria - in relation to siblings or catchment areas.

He had also failed to consider whether there had been any 'significant change' in the situation since 1999 when the schools were told to reduce their selective intake from 50% to 35%.

The absence of any complaints about the admissions criteria from local parents also served to 'undermine' the adjudicator's decision, added the judge.

Nevertheless, the judge said the adjudicator had been 'clearly correct' to put a stop to the method used by the school to select 10% of pupils on the basis of musical 'aptitude'.

All the school had asked for from prospective musical pupils was a grade 3 in a musical instrument and the judge said that was clearly not a test of aptitude.

Poorer parents would not be able to afford instruments or private tuition and children without a grade 3 pass might nevertheless have musical aptitude.

But the court heard the adjudicator has now allowed the schools to continue with their 10% musical intake on the basis of new aptitude tests which have now been introduced.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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