Leading Article: Illusion of choice

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The Independent Online

This week has been a roller-coaster time of year for parents because it's when they discovered whether their offspring had got into the schools of their choice. There was a lot of speculation in the air, with predictions of heartache and disappointment in the newspapers.

One of the reasons for all this trauma is that the politicians have raised our expectations. They have made parents feel they have a real choice by giving them the right to apply for six schools in London and three if they live anywhere else. More than 90 per cent of families get one of their choices but some don't get any. The fact is that there is not a real market in school places. Some schools are much more popular than others and are going to attract the lion's share of applications, but not everyone will be able to get their children into these schools.

The Conservatives are trying to get round this dilemma by allowing oversubscribed schools to expand. The problem with this is that a school that gets bigger may lose the qualities that made it superior and special in the first place. Good schools may cease to be good.

The message is clear. Until all schools can be equally desirable, parents have to get used to the idea that they don't have a choice that is being met or denied. They have the right to state a preference. They should break open the champagne if that preference is met and they should appeal if it is denied.

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