Assault on the Classes in Race for Best School Places; Harriet Harman: Equality Drive
Byline: Laura Clark
RISING numbers of sought-after state schools are restricting access for middle-class children by selecting pupils by lottery.
Bristol City Council is considering following Brighton and introducing 'random allocation' to decide places at oversubscribed 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 school waiting lists if places become available as the start of the school year approaches.
It follows the introduction in February 2007 of new school admissions 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 succeeds in pushing through plans to put a legal duty on public bodies to bridge the gap between rich and poor.
Proposals that may be included in a new 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 Bristol City 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 to ensure a comprehensive intake.
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.
'Any new proposals would be effective from 2011 at the earliest because of the length of time needed for consultation,' the minutes say.
The seminar will hear from education officials at Brighton, where lotteries are used in conjunction with a system of catchment areas.
An analysis of proposed school admissions arrangements for 2010/2011 shows that leading schools considering allocating some places by lottery include Baylis Court School in Slough, Berkshire, and Chellaston School in Derby. Several single-sex schools in Hertfordshire and Stratford School in Newham, East London, are already using lottery systems to award places instead of the distance that children live from the school.
At Baylis Court School, 10 per cent of places will be allocated according to aptitude in the school's specialism, the performing arts.
After children in care, children with special needs and siblings of existing pupils, places will be assigned by a 'random electronic allocation system'.
Headmistress Maureen Ball said: 'We are very heavily oversubscribed. We have had to say to people who live two miles from the school, "Don't even bother to apply, you are wasting your time". …