Letter: Parental `choice'

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The Independent Culture
Letter: Parental `choice'

Sir: I too faced the dilemma, like Jeremy Corbyn MP and his wife, of finding a school for my son in north Islington. I too wanted him to go to a local non-selective comprehensive school.

At the time, our "local" school had less than 10 per cent A-C passes at GCSE, a percentage that had fallen over the previous four years. Bright children rarely lasted long there. Bullying and worse were common.

Local parents adopted a variety of strategies. One family reconverted to Catholicism to try to get their daughter into a Catholic school. Others swallowed their principles and sent their children down the private route - open to the prosperous few only.

Many put their children down for selective or grammar schools, often after lengthy and expensive tutoring. (Apparently, the sale of "primers" from one publishing house increased more than five times between 1994 and 1998). But, on average, only 1 in 20 gets into selective state schools around here.

Yet other parents who could afford to (or were very lucky) moved, buying themselves into the catchment area of a favoured school -a "choice" unavailable to the vast majority.

The Labour government has carried on the Conservative policies of using market principles as a basis of educational reform. The league tables of exam results theoretically underpin informed parental choice. In practice, they provide the mechanism whereby the better informed or prosperous parent can gain advantaged education for their child. As money follows pupils and parents turn away from schools with less "competitive" results, "less successful" schools will get worse, "good" schools better.

Whatever the flaws of the comprehensive system, it did increase opportunity for working-class and many middle-class children. Now we are returning to the rigidities of the old two-tier system. "Parental choice" cloaks ever-increasing inequality.


London N1