Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    One of the most heart-rending problems I face every year in my surgery is that of parents and children who have been refused a place at the school of their choice.

    I strongly believe that to the extent possible parents should have the right to choose the school they think will be best for their children. But it is not possible to get a quart into a pint pot. Some schools will be oversubscribed and there is a physical limit to how many extra pupils they can be obliged to take.

    In the past the biggest problem has been the shortage of places in single sex schools ? especially for girls. I have every sympathy for parents who make this choice. My wife went to a single sex school which then went co-ed and she felt the boys dominated the class and the girls got less attention. Demand for single sex places locally is exacerbated by the very high repute of St Albans Girls School. But the education establishment has been hostile to creating new single sex schools in Hertfordshire (or elsewhere) as they are not ?politically correct?.

    This year, however, a new and bigger problem has emerged.

    During 16 years in Parliament I have never seen such a discriminatory outcome of the secondary transfer system. The village of Redbourn has been split down the centre. Not a single child west of the dividing line seems to have been given a place in Harpenden or St Albans. They are all being told to go across the motorway into Hemel Hempstead.

    It is disappointing for any parent and pupil not to get their first choice school; it is heartbreaking to be refused first, second or third choices; but it is simply unacceptable for a whole community to be refused all their choices, discriminated against, and split down the middle in breach of a long-standing right.

    The County must put this right at the appeals stage. If this outcome was intended when new secondary transfer rules were introduced by the then Lab/LibDem controlled administration over a year ago in the face of strong and sustained opposition from local villages, it was dishonest not to make that clear. If it was an accident, then all the more reason to undo the damage.

    I have been doing all in my power, along with County Councillor Derek Hills, to solve this unacceptable situation.