Parental Choice Means Nothing When Our Primary Schools Are Failing Children So Badly
Orr, Deborah, The Independent (London, England)
Long ago when the concept of parental choice was introduced into the state education system, it was done under the assumption that this would somehow create a market in which schools would compete with each other and standards would be raised. A couple of decades on, I think it has become apparent that this theory has not worked. The worst schools are not compelled to improve because of parental choice. They just end up populated by the children of the parents whose choices are fewest.
Yet instead of admitting that parental choice is an experiment that has failed, the present government is instead doing something extraordinary. It is pressing on with parental choice, except that in a bizarre inversion of the policy it is looking at ways of limiting the choices of more affluent or savvy parents (it is not always the richest that manage best to procure good schools for their children, but sometimes just the most organised and committed), in the hope that this will maximise the choices of the others.
The situation is so bizarre now that it is amazing that politicians, educational experts and the media are still locked in passionate debate about it all. Sure, critics always trumpet that the real problem is not enough good schools, but this does not seem to stop time and energy and money and expertise being wasted on working out how the ratio of children to decent school places can be somehow changed through admissions procedure rather than educational reform. This year, it seems, more cash and more time than ever will be spent on the mounting of appeals by parents whose children have not got their first-choice schools, because more people than ever before have been disappointed.
Meanwhile, all eyes are turned towards Brighton, which has gone further than any other council in taking up the recommendations for admissions reform recommended by the government, and has started allocating some places by lottery.
Ideologically, this experiment may be terribly interesting. But practically it is, under the present woeful circumstances, marginal. It is not going to raise educational standards in Brighton. It is just going to introduce an element of chance into decisions about which particular individuals gets the messy end of the stick. It is a disgraceful state of affairs, the acme of a system that should be called parental powerlessness, and recognised by its name as dangerous and sick and wrong.
The real nightmare is that while all this agonised attention is being expended on secondary schools, the basic skills that a child arrived at secondary school with, whether he is there because his parents bought a house, or because his parents won a lottery, are the most sound indicator of how his or her education will proceed from there. That's why, dear reader, private schools make such a song and dance about it.
A child whose reading, writing, spelling and numeracy skills are not as good as they could be by the time he or she is 11 is unlikely to catch up without the specialist attention that should have been provided ages before. Yet we have now reached the parlous situation whereby one in five children starts their secondary education having achieved exactly that level of attainment.
Let's just allow our imaginations to run riot and consider that the "bad" schools might be the ones which end up with a disproportionate number of children thus disadvantaged on their rolls. Let's also think about whether it might be pretty dreadful to be placed in a school that expects you in four years to sit exams that will …
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Publication information: Article title: Parental Choice Means Nothing When Our Primary Schools Are Failing Children So Badly. Contributors: Orr, Deborah - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: March 5, 2008. Page number: 30. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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