AN independent panel has turned down controversial plans by all-girls Sandbach High School to admit boys.
Headteacher John Leigh says he is surprised and disappointed by Cheshire Admissions Forum's refusal to endorse the school's proposal to enrol boys into the sixth form by 2006.
He said: 'It comes as a surprise as this outcome was not expected so early in proceedings.
'Of course, it is a disappointment to governors and to me but it will be more disheartening for students, staff and an absolute majority of parents who have endorsed our proposal aimed at enhancing the learning opportunities of local students.
'We have been disappointed previously and, as on those occasions, we will now dust ourselves down, reflect on what has happened and focus once more on the continuing development of our school.'
But the head of the all-boys Sandbach School is calling on Mr Leigh not to pursue the plan any further and re-enter talks to see if a compromise can be found.
Peter Wiles' calls are backed by Cheshire County Council, the Local Education Authority and the Learning and Skills Council.
They have endorsed a model of education which would see girls aged 16-18 able to study subjects at the boys' school, and vice-versa. This would enable the schools to maintain single-sex status, but facilitate a wider course choice.
Mr Wiles said: 'The forum has rightly recognised the best structure for 16-plus education in Sandbach is for the two high schools to work in partnership. This has consistently been the view of the governors and staff of Sandbach School.
'The forum has also recognised that setting the two schools in a competitive relationship through enabling Sandbach High School to enrol boys in 2006 is inappropriate.'
He added: 'The fact is that had Sandbach High School not withdrawn from partnership negotiations in February, 2004, the community would now have boys and girls working and learning together.
'It is my fervent wish that common sense will now prevail and we can establish a warm and well-structured partnership as soon as possible.'