Education Quandary

'Will the new admissions code make it easier to get our son into a good secondary school?'
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Hilary's advice

Under the draft code, published this autumn, schools are advised they must no longer give a higher priority to parents who make them their first choice, nor should they consider parents' wealth, education, background and ability to support the school when allocating places. This should help to level the playing field to some extent, but still leaves problems for parents whose children are coming up to secondary school.

Specialist schools and academies, for example, will still be able to select a portion of their pupils according to aptitude (whatever that means). Meanwhile if the school you want your son to go to is popular, you will still need to live very near the school gate, have another child in it or find an inventive reason why he absolutely must go there, to get him in.

The problem is that the very idea of school choice is a flawed notion, and will always be so, no matter how much you refine the admission process.

It might work, up to a point, in urban areas, where there is a wide range of schools within striking distance, but that is rarely true in suburban and country areas. And nothing will ever solve the problem of all parents wanting their children to go to the best school in an area. Under such a system, some families will always have to grapple with stress, anxiety and disappointment during the transfer process. As ever, your son's chances of going to a good school will depend entirely on local circumstances.

Readers' advice

Will these new rules do anything to help children who are devastated when they don't get into any school they want to go to? Like this reader, we went through hell with our older daughter, and are dreading going through it again with our second child. Our daughter finally settled in the school she had to go to, but it took almost two years of life away from her, worrying about whether she was going to get a place, and then dealing with how she felt when she didn't.

Celine Nash, London N20

No admission code will ever stop those who can from working the system. As the Sutton Trust has found out, only one in 20 pupils in the country's top 200 schools are from poor homes, compared with a national average of nearer one in six. The only way to change this would be to attach money to disadvantage. The more problems a child has, the more money he or she comes with. That way schools would finally show an interest in taking them.

Mike Wheeler, Birmingham

As heads we are supposed to be free of government control, yet our hands are being tied tighter and tighter when it comes to having a say over which pupils we can have in our schools. Everyone knows that the prime determinant of your outcome - in our case, exam results - is your input - in our case, the pupils who come through the school gates. We are judged on the former without any power over the latter. I retired early because of the strain of this, and know many colleagues who have done the same.

Gerry Wheatcroft, Devon

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

I am a school governor in an area where drugs are a big problem and we are dealing increasingly with drug problems in our school. Our head is keen to introduce drug testing for pupils, but some of us feel that this might cause more problems than it solves. Does it work? Is this a good road to go down?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 13 November to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.