An investigation was launched yesterday into claims that pupils are being discriminated against in secondary school place allocation because of their sex. The Equal Opportunities Commission inquiry will study allegations that both girls and boys have been unfairly discriminated against. It is the first time the commission has invoked its legal investigative power since it was established in May 1996. In the past, it has acted on complaints and has been criticised for being passive in investigating possible discrimination. Commission chairwoman Dr Fanny Cheung Mui-ching said results of the investigation would be available in about six months. If there were signs of discrimination, the commission would launch a further 'belief in investigation' inquiry after which the relevant department would be named and enforcement notices might be issued. She said the commission had received several inquiries from 'parents of both boys and girls at Primary Six who feel the system has treated their sons or daughters unfairly'. 'These parents believe the educational prospects of their children have been affected on the grounds of their sex,' she said. 'At this stage, the commission does not have enough information to determine whether the system is discriminatory or not, or whether it disadvantages one sex over the other. 'It is nevertheless a matter of concern of many parents in the community and has long-term implications for all students. That's why we have taken the initiative to launch a formal investigation.' Dr Cheung said the investigation would review policies, procedures and data. It would seek opinions from schools, parents and teachers, and make recommendations to the Education Department. More than 72,000 Primary Six students last month learned which secondary schools they would attend. For the first time, they were also told of their banding. The Education Department, which had previously kept the banding secret, was forced to release it because of new laws on access to information. Some parents discovered that daughters who had performed well in school were given a lower banding and allocated less favourable schools than their male counterparts. The department said it had allocated places separately for girls and boys since 1983. It said that if boys and girls were assessed together, the former would lose out because girls usually did better in examinations and boys did better in the Academic Aptitude Test. But the standard of exams might vary from school to school. Director of Education Helen Yu Lai Ching-ping pledged full co-operation with the commission. 'Our aim through the allocation system is to provide an open, fair and practicable system for the benefit of students,' she said. 'The system has been designed in consultation with academics, education experts and practitioners.'