State School War on Middle Classes; Harriet Harman: Equality Drive

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Clark

RISING numbers of sought-after state schools are restricting access for middle-class children by selecting pupils by lottery.

Bristol council is considering following Brighton and introducing 'random allocation' to decide places at over-subscribed schools among its dozen secondaries.

Growing numbers of foundation, voluntary-aided and academy schools, which run their own admissions, are also turning to lotteries to allocate places instead of using the distance between a pupil's home and the school gates.

Several councils are considering using them to pick children from waiting lists if places become available as the start of the school year approaches.

It follows the introduction in February 2007 of new admission rules which aim to stamp out 'social' selection and allow lottery admissions to prevent the middle classes monopolising good schools by buying houses nearby. More schools will follow suit if Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman pushes through plans to put a legal duty on public bodies to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

Proposals that may be included in an Equality Bill would effectively require schools and other bodies to discriminate against Middle Britain. They have been described as 'socialism in one clause' by a Cabinet minister.

Lottery admissions systems provoke angry reactions because they are said by critics to leave children's education 'up to chance' and undermine parental choice. Children risk being shut out of a school even if they live next door.

But the head of one school judged 'outstanding' by Ofsted said he believed it would be 'abhorrent' to use distance to ration places.

Lawrence Montagu, of St Peter's Roman Catholic High School in Gloucester, said: 'Some people in our Catholic primary schools live ten to 12 miles away from the school. Why should they be denied the chance of coming to the school simply because of the part of the city they live?'

Bristol council is soon to hold a seminar on 'how to deliver fairer access' ahead of possible proposals to introduce admissions lotteries or fair banding, which splits children into bands according to ability.

Minutes of a recent admissions forum reveal that the council has been asked to look at the effect lotteries and fair banding would have in Bristol. …