SCMP Tuesday, May 22, 2001


Allocations 'ensure sexual equality'

SARA BRADFORD

The Education Department yesterday strongly defended in court its use of a controversial Form One allocation system accused of discriminating against girls, saying it was aimed at ensuring equality between the sexes.
Nigel Pleming QC, counsel for the department, told the Court of First Instance that the Secondary School Places Allocation System was protecting the educational future of about 12,000 boys in their last year at co-educational primary school.
His comments followed the Equal Opportunities Commission's claims that the system was discriminatory because it reduced the chances of high-achieving girls attending the secondary school of their choice. The commission is seeking a judicial review of the system.
Mr Pleming said the Director of Education had chosen the system after much care and consideration. It was driven by concern to ensure all children had "as level a playing field as can be managed in the existing allocation scheme", he said.
Under the system, co-educational schools are required to admit roughly the same number of boys and girls, regardless of academic results. As girls mature earlier, they are more likely to achieve higher results.
Mr Pleming said the commission's assertion that the system "protected the boys at the expense of the girls" was a misrepresentation because the aim was to promote equality.
He said the top 30 per cent of boys in co-educational primary schools - about 12,000 individuals - would be most affected if the system was abandoned.
The court heard last week from Lord Anthony Lester QC, for the commission. He said it had uncovered evidence in a 1999 report that the system discriminated against high-achieving girls.
The commission claimed the Director of Education's decision on April 19 last year to keep using the system because of "sound and strong educational reasons" was in breach of the Sexual Discrimination Ordinance.
Lord Lester identified three components as discriminatory: separate gender curves to scale internal assessments; banding students separately by sex; and fixed quotas for female and male students in co-educational schools.
Yesterday, Mr Pleming defended the use of gender quotas, saying they protected co-educational schools. He said experts found that while boys lagged behind girls while they were developing, at the end of schooling both genders achieved almost equal results.
The hearing, before Mr Justice Michael Hartmann, continues.