Monday, September 09, 2013

British "Grammar" schools are 'bribed' by ministers to let poorer pupils jump the queue for oversubscribed places

Children from poor families are being allowed to jump the queue for sought-after places at top-performing grammar schools for the first time.  Until now, priority for oversubscribed places has been given to children who have passed the 11-plus exam and live closest to the school.

But a rule change introduced by Education Secretary Michael Gove now means schools can offer poor children places ahead of better-off youngsters who live nearer – with heads picking up hundreds of pounds in extra funding.

At least four grammars, where up to six pupils compete for every place, are among the first wave of state schools making the changes, risking a backlash among parents who fear they could lose out.

The move follows criticism that  better-off families are boosting their chances of getting into grammars by first sending children to independent schools, where class sizes are considerably smaller, and then moving them back into the state system once they have passed the 11-plus. Heads say this undermines the original aim of grammars in promoting social mobility.

In Buckinghamshire, Aylesbury Grammar, Aylesbury High School and Sir Henry Floyd Grammar are giving priority to children granted free school meals because their families are on benefits or earn less than £16,190.

As these children are eligible for the ‘pupil premium’ – extra Government funding allocated to recipients of free school meals – the schools will benefit by £900 per pupil this year.

Another grammar, Lawrence Sheriff at Rugby, Warwickshire, is also introducing new criteria that will allow it to favour children on pupil premiums over others who live closer.

Campaigners say parents who do not qualify for free school meals but are on low incomes would be infuriated by the changes. Margaret Morrissey, of pressure group Parents Outloud, said: ‘This is blatantly unfair. A child should be admitted to a selective school on merit, and it should have nothing to do with the family’s financial position. This is a form of social engineering.

‘Everything seems to go against  parents who provide for their children and support their education. Mr Gove seems to be doing everything in his power to make life more difficult for them.’

Chris McGovern, of Real Education, said: ‘Free school meals are a very poor indicator of social background.’

However, Stephen Lehec, head of  the 1,300-strong Aylesbury Grammar, founded in 1598, said: ‘These are people who need a leg-up. If they pass the 11-plus and need free school meals, they are often doing really well despite their circumstances.’

Peter Kent, head of Lawrence Sheriff, said just one parent had so far objected to the change, but the school hoped to regain the ‘socially diverse mix’ it had 15 or 20 years ago.

About 1.9 million children are eligible for the pupil premium, which is given to those who have been registered for free school meals at any point in the previous six years.

The Department for Education said: ‘The pupil premium priority was introduced to give children from low-income families a better chance of accessing good schools which they may not otherwise have considered.

‘All pupils must pass entrance tests before being considered for a place at a selective school.’


California schools sending parents 'fat letters' telling them their children are obese -- and they appear to be making a difference

Schools in California are sending letters to parents telling them their children are fat.  Referred to as ‘fat letters,’ schools in parts of California are warning parents their pre-school-aged children are at risk of becoming obese adults.

Despite some backlash, the letters appear to be making an impact.
About 200 of the 900 students reviewed by one nutritionist prompted warnings.

‘We let the parents know in a gentle fashion, but we also send out a ton of handouts to try to help that family,’ nutritionist Lauren Schmitt told CBS Los Angeles.

Determinations are made by looking at growth charts and percentiles, the nutritionist explained. If a child’s weight falls in the 95th percentile for their height, or their age, that child would be considered obese, she added, triggering a letter home.

Not everyone appreciates the ‘gentle’ approach notifying parents their children are ‘unhealthy.’  ‘Every year there are a few phone calls from parents who are upset,’ Schimitt told the station.

California is not alone in sending the so-called ‘fat letters’ to parents of obese children. 19 other states also employ the practice, and it’s meant to be a positive.  ‘It shouldn’t be a stigma, it’s not a way to categorize someone,’ Schmitt told the station. ‘It’s just showing that this child has increased risk to be obese as an adult, which then could lead to quite a few chronic diseases.’

Other school districts have resorted to sending body mass index test results to parents, the station noted.

The practice may be having an impact. Childhood obesity is down slightly in 18 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control, California is one of them.


British Catholic school ordered to change admissions policy

One of the country’s top Catholic state schools has been ordered by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to change its admissions policy.

The London Oratory in Fulham, which has in recent years been attended by the children of a number of politicians, including Tony Blair and Nick Clegg, was criticised for prioritizing children based on their parents’ parish activities.

The British Humanist Association lodged an objection over the school’s rules saying it breaches England’s admissions code.

In its written ruling, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator said that the school argued the service criteria, which include such things as singing in the church choir, serving at the altar of visiting the sick, does not breach the code because the activities described are religious duties required by canon law.

But the ruling stated that it was a breach of the admissions code for the school to include “service in a Catholic parish or in the wider Catholic Church” as a criteria.

Adjudicator David Lennard Jones said that while he does not dispute the school’s reference to canon law, the admissions code does not allow practical support to a school, or organisation like the Catholic Church, to be used to prioritise children for places.

He said the system favours parents who are “good at planning ahead” and said it discriminates against Catholics who practise their faith in other ways, he said.

The adjudicator’s decisions mirrors the Diocese of Westminster’s 2009 ruling against the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, a mile away in Kensington.


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