Leading article: A lottery is the way forward

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Parents may frown on the idea of a lottery because they attach such importance to getting their children into the school of their choice. And geography may appear more rational than luck as a criterion. However, there is every reason to believe that the random allocation of places, as it is officially called, is fairer than the system it replaces. Allocating places according to geography meant that richer parents were able to snap them up by buying a house close to the school. Property values around popular schools rose as a result. A lottery would end that.

The Government has given its blessing to the Haberdashers' Aske's scheme and believes it could be adopted by other over-subscribed schools. Moreover, its new and enthusiastic special adviser on academies, Sir Cyril Taylor, of the Specialist Schools Trust, wants academies to adopt a more radical banding system for admissions. That would enable the schools to take in proportions of pupils from each of five ability groups in line with the ability range in the school's catchment area. Previously schools took in percentages in line with the applications they received. That meant they took in more band one (brighter) pupils if they had more applications from their parents. This measure is likely to be included in the Government's forthcoming White Paper and will lead to a more comprehensive intake. It will deal with one of the major criticisms of the academies - that they lead to a two-tier education system.

The Government should also question why the academies are so oversubscribed. The conclusion must be that money is being poured into these schools at a time when not enough is being done to improve the rest of the schools in the neighbourhood. Ministers must press ahead as quickly as possible with their "building for the future" programme which aims to refurbish every secondary school in the country over the next decade. If improved learning conditions are essential for the pupils at the academy, they are essential for the rest, too.

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