Hunting for a School Place Is a Brutal Lesson in Economics; Economic Analysis

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

Hunting for a School Place Is a Brutal Lesson in Economics; Economic Analysis


Byline: Russell Lynch

FOR more than 20 years, parents have had the right to choose a preferred school for their children. A week into the serious business of finding a primary school place for my daughter, it's already plain this "choice" is an illusion.

Vast economic forces the twin pressures of supply and demand, and demographics are ranged against me. London, if you hadn't heard, is in the midst of a population explosion which will see the size of our city hit a record of more than 8.6 million early next year.

Immigration and rising birth rates the result of a "mini-baby boom" earlier this millennium is putting the primary-school system under incredible strain.

Our capital has the highest birth rate in Europe and an extra 133,000 primary and secondary places will be needed by 2018, according to the London Councils organisation.

The Greater London Authority's populationforecasting tool shows that my borough, Bromley, had 3700 five-year olds in 2010: that rises to 4300 by 2017. Without the financial wherewithal to go private, where does that leave the consumer in today's state-education market (me)? Concerned.

In Bromley, the council has had to create more than 600 extra places this academic year to cope with the demand for primary places.

For the uninitiated, you "choose" your school, but selection is ultimately determined by how far away you live, although siblings of existing pupils jump the queue. The council tells you which schools your child would have gained a place at for the past three years, immediately adding a dour dose of realism to the exercise.

The ever-decreasing catchment area around our nearby schools, plus a new housing development down the road (thanks, Barratt), has meanwhile turned the "homebanker" choices into touch-and-go affairs: a lottery ticket for the biggest step in your child's life.

There's an element of game theory here too: do you waste one of your precious six choices on an excellent school which is too far away and an absolute no-hoper, or do you resign yourself to six achievable picks? …

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