Education class war

What the battle of Brighton over a lottery for school admissions really means for...
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The Independent Online


The introduction of a lottery to determine school admissions would mean children from less well-off families were more likely to be able to obtain places at England's top performing state secondary schools. Many of the places currently go to children whose families can afford higher priced housing near the school. It would mean that some children living on the school's doorstep would not be able to secure a place at their nearest school.


In theory, the ruling would allow parents from any social class to get their child into the school of their first choice. But some better-off parents who live in more expensive homes nearer to the school may be tempted to opt for the independent sector rather than risk having their child allocated to a school which does less well in a poorer neighbourhood. But for many parents of poorer children it will offer a clear chance of a better education.


Critics will argue that a school's performance could be affected if disruptive children are allowed in. Supporters will say that top-performing schools will prevail irrespective of the intake. Education chiefs believe that, by allowing children from deprived homes into top-performing schools, they will break the cycle of deprivation which has led to many of these youngsters not staying on in either education or training once they reach the age of 16.

House prices

Surveys have shown that houses near best-performing schools can rise in value dramatically, with some fetching more than double the price of homes farther away. A Hometrack report claimed that homes within the catchment areas of England's 10 most-improved state schools had risen in value by 76 per cent since 2001. Experts warn that the move by Brighton Council could lead to a slump in house prices near affected schools.


Politicians have always feared a backlash if the methods of allocating places were changed. Parents might turn on any local authority - or government - that attempted reforms seen to deny parents the places at popular schools they wanted. But the Government's new code cracked down on selection by stealth and opened the door to lotteries like the one in Brighton. The Tories have backed Labour's reforms and floated the idea of scrapping catchment areas.


Admission rules that make the distance between home and school the key factor are said to reinforce social divisions. But the traditional link between schools and their neighbourhoods would be broken and could have profound consequences. That may give children from poorer backgrounds better access to popular schools, but could also drive middle-class children into private schools, thus perpetuating social inequality.