Highcrest Academy in Hatters Lane, High Wycombe, is at the centre of controversy after introducing new banding admission tests which are due to begin this year.

In a letter on April 13, reader Derek Berry criticised the tests and said Highcrest had ignored protests received from other schools and parents. He insisted Highcrest must define any measurable educational benefits that the scheme would achieve – or drop it altogether. He claimed banding admission tests would deprive some children of the opportunity to attend their first-choice local community school.

Meanwhile, Highcrest responds on this page to both of his letters:

PLEASE find below the response to Mr Berry’s letters to the Bucks Free Press. Mr Berry has been in regular contact with Highcrest during and after the consultation period. The Academy has always responded in full to the points raised. We would like to respond publicly to some of the issues Mr Berry raises and also to correct some inaccurate statements.

Mr Berry says that fewer local children will get to Highcrest under the new policy. This is incorrect. We carried out an impact assessment using the new criteria with students who had applied in 2010. It showed that children would have been admitted from closer to the school, especially as the current distorted catchment area has been removed. Mr Berry has asked previously why we wish to introduce banding and in his most recent letter asks what is “wrong with our current intake?”

We want to offer the choice of an all-ability academy to the parents of High Wycombe. In the simplest terms, once we have marked the banding tests from all applicants, we will divide those applications into four equal bands. The score is then of no importance, as we will take the students based on our admissions criteria of siblings, then distance (after the legal requirements of SEN and Looked After Children). In this way, we can achieve a balanced intake from local families. In recent years, we have met many parents whose children have been separated by the selective system. One parent had three children all at different schools: a girls’ grammar, a boys’ grammar and an upper school. Parents find it understandably difficult to send “grammar qualified” children to an upper school – we hope that a banded all-ability academy will provide the confidence that all needs will be met and that there will be peer groups representing all abilities – from the most able to those who require additional learning support. We emphasise that the same number of students will be taken from each ability band.

Some parents do not approve of the selective system on principle and wish to send their children to a school that reflects the local community – the all-ability school will provide that option for the first time.

Some members of the community have been deeply concerned about the 11+ test and the intricate grammar school selection system. They now have an alternative. Ultimately our aim is to provide an education at Highcrest that is so good and adds so much value that we will be a first choice for local parents, before any other type of school.

Mr Berry has questioned the use of an additional test. We were proposing to use the 11+ but as you have reported elsewhere, BCC agree that the test is flawed. We do need a measure to achieve banding and therefore we have chosen the most “neutral” of available tests – a 45 minute non-verbal reasoning test that uses shapes and patterns. This will be made as simple and stress-free as possible and students will be reassured there is no “pass or fail”; it is simply a measure to enable banding.

We hope this clarifies some misunderstandings. Full details are available on our website and notification will soon be given to current Year 5 parents for booking our age- adjusted first test session on 7 July, well before the autumn 11+ season.

Ian Newton Senior Vice Principal, Highcrest Academy