Middle classes get wise over schools

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The Independent Online
Middle-class parents are using increasingly sophisticated skills to choose and secure school places for their children.

They want to know every detail about a school from the number going to medical school each year to the qualifications of each maths teacher, according to research from King's College, London.

These parents, say the research, are using the market in state schools created by the Government's policies to give parents more choice in the way they have traditionally chosen private schools.

Their knowledge and skill gives them a big advantage over working-class parents, says Professor Stephen Ball, who interviewed 137 parents about school choice.

Increasingly, such parents are comparing state and private schools. The checklist they present on their visits includes:

t The age at which mixed ability teaching stops and setting starts;

t Whether pupils study integrated science or physics, chemistry and biology as separate subjects;

t What percentage get As and Bs at A-level;

t For which musical instruments tuition is offered;

t Which teaching methods are used.

Professor Ball said in a paper to the British Educational Research Association conference, in Bath, which ended yesterday: "Middle-class parents are familiar and comfortable with the mode of consumption now operating in the state education system, and they are particularly advantaged by it."

One parent told him: "The question I asked on the sciences is how many people have applied for medical school, because if you ask how good their sciences are they'll always tell you they're good. But if their sciences are so poor they can't even apply for medical school then it reflects back. You then query it and they will admit they have a slight difficulty."

Schools are visited and revisited with every possibility explored, different local authorities, opted out schools, church schools, city technology colleges and private school scholarships. Those who put private schools first have a fall-back state school.

Most parents in the sample who chose private schools did so "with no concern of principle whatsoever". Those who felt they had sacrificed their principles said they were looking for specific qualities in a private school, like a good social mix.

Some who rejected private schools did so because they did not want to join "the rat race". They were put off by stories of 13-year olds getting home at 7pm and doing homework until midnight.

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