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13 December 2002


A response to the Secretary of State for Education's comments to Select Committee on Education.

Support Kent Schools welcomes the news that Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for Education, has called for an end to the ideological arguments about selection. In his comments to the Select Committee on Education, he emphasised that the only question that matters is that of educational standards. SKS congratulates Kent secondary schools on the county's impressive performance at GCSE in July 2002, when the proportion of children gaining 5 or more GCSE grades A*-C climbed to 53%, well above the national average and improving at faster than the national rate. Kent's GCSE performance is in the top third of all local authorities, a tribute to the value added by its secondary schools, when the level of its primary school achievement at Key Stage 2 is in the bottom third. The selective system continues to offer children success through a range of secondary schooling tailored to the individual.

The overwhelming support by parents for the selective system in Kent has been reaffirmed annually through their refusal to support a petition to hold a ballot for the removal of grammar schools. Parents enter well over half of the children in Kent for the selection-tests, wishing to give them a chance of seeing whether this special type of education is suitable for them. It is deplorable that campaigners against the selective system have again exploited the legal process in a cynical manoeuvre to force all schools to compile a statutory list of parents eligible to vote in a ballot, which they know will not happen; schools are rightly enraged at this deliberate waste of money which should be spent on children's learning.

Parents of Year 6 children are currently struggling with the process of getting the right secondary school for their child. SKS condemns the new hurdle introduced by some secondary schools of treating parents' stated preference as "conditional" ie of lower priority, if the child has been entered for the selection-process. This discriminates against parents of many children who need further academic assessment before the most appropriate type of schooling can be identified for them. Kent LEA has started a consultation for schools and parents about the future process of transfer which will both simplify and make it fairer. SKS strongly agrees with the move to a completely unified system which cuts out conditionality and allows parents to express real preferences without fear of being discriminated against.

Kent LEA is moving rapidly towards having more "specialist" schools, following Government policy. SKS believes that this will extend the range of opportunities for young people, building on the diversity of types of school already available in Kent. It will be helpful to parents to have the maximum amount of information about their child's progress, attainment, aptitude and ability during the primary years, so that they can make well-informed decisions about the suitability of particular subject-specialisms, including the academically-specialist grammar schools. SKS has always upheld the principle of parents knowing all relevant information before expressing preferences for schools and we support Kent in seeking to supplement formal testing of ability with what the pre-consultation document calls "continuous assessment".

SKS is asking for a meeting with Charles Clarke, to press the case for retaining and enhancing the status quo in Kent.

SKS is a non-political organisation. Contact for further details: Mr Anthony Stanton
Tel: 01227 463711 (Work) 01227 700421 (Home)