Vouchers could work but what happens to the pupils which schools reject?

Analysis
Click to follow

We were promised details with the publication of the Tories' education policy blueprint, The Right To Choose, yesterday, and we did get some.

We were promised details with the publication of the Tories' education policy blueprint, The Right To Choose, yesterday, and we did get some.

For instance, it was firmly predicted that one of the main planks of the policy - giving a voucher worth about £5,500 a year to all parents to choose schools for their children - would open up more choice than had been widely believed.

Tim Collins, the party's education spokesman, said that it would put pressure on independent schools charging just above the figure to drop their fees so they could secure government funding. (The voucher could not be used at independent schools charging more than the figure).

If that happened, and there are those in the private sector who agree with Mr Collins' assessment, it would widen choice - and not just leave parents selecting between a good state school and a cut-price independent one.

He also estimated that an extra 100,000 parents would get their children into their first- choice school within the lifetime of a parliament as a result of the right-to-choose policy.

There is some justification for this. The policy would allow popular schools to expand so they could take in more pupils. There would be enough money in the kitty for 260 extra schools, or an expansion of existing successful schools. That would, in the long run, allow more parents to secure places at popular first-choice schools.

He also promised that a Conservative government would react with "impatience" to failing schools. No more namby-pamby years of "special measures". If they did not attract enough pupils to be viable and improve within two years, they would be gone.

But the flaw in the argument is that the proposals also conjure up another right to choose, this time for schools. All state schools, both primary and secondary, would have the right to choose their own admissions policies and select pupils on the basis of academic ability, or aptitude in another area.

But if schools have the right to choose, they also have the right to reject, and what will happen to those pupils they reject?

Er, say the Conservatives. We will have to consult with the local education authorities to ensure every child has the right to attend a school. (These will be the emasculated education authorities that no longer run or have any control over schools and therefore will presumably find it difficult to force one to take an unwanted child.)

It is similarly unclear what would happen with the parent who lacks the energy to spend time choosing a school, or lacks the mobility to drive them miles across town to get there, and cannot afford the bus fare.

Many parents' and teachers' leaders argued yesterday that the Tories' proposals would led to a system of popular and "sink" schools. In the words of the Sixties pop song by Johnny Nash, there are still "more questions than answers" about their plans.

Comments