Leading Article: Parents' choice is limited

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Conservative's deserve congratulation for at least being prepared to tackle a problem that Labour has been unable to solve - namely that exam league tables have meant affluent parents moving into homes near the best-performing schools, thereby denying children from poorer homes access to them.

The Conservative's deserve congratulation for at least being prepared to tackle a problem that Labour has been unable to solve - namely that exam league tables have meant affluent parents moving into homes near the best-performing schools, thereby denying children from poorer homes access to them.

Speaking at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Harrogate last weekend, Tim Yeo, the Tory education spokesman, said that schools should be barred from using geographical proximity as a way of deciding school admissions. Sadly, however, the Tories' education spokesman did not suggest what criteria should be used instead, although his promise to consult with teachers' unions and other education organisations is welcome.

Doug McAvoy, the outgoing general secretary of the NUT, thinks that abolishing the geographical promixity rule will lead to names being drawn out of a hat by head teachers - something that most parents will not stomach. He has a point. That seems to be the only alternative way of determining admissions, given that it would take too long to expand a school to meet parental demand in any given year.

Another idea floated at the NUT conference is a return to the kind of banding arrangements that flourished under the Inner London Education Authority. This forced schools to admit fixed quotas of pupils from differing ability ranges.

Professor Tim Brighouse, appointed as London Schools Commissioner by the Government, has already promised that city academies - the newly privately sponsored inner city schools - will use this arrangement to decide on admissions. It looks to be a more practical way of approaching the problem than the "passport'' (or voucher) put forward by the Conservatives. After all, the "passport" cannot guarantee admission to a school if there are no places available at that school.

Perhaps the main lesson to emerge from this controversy is that politicians of every persuasion have a duty to face up to the fact that they cannot guarantee to deliver on parental choice. They can offer parents the opportunity to put their children's names down for the school they would like them to attend. Ultimately, however, if the school is oversubscribed, it is the school and not the parent who will determine whether a child gets in.

Comments