Alison Shepherd: Money buys the best state education

Every child deserves a good school place

Share
Related Topics

An education system that produces record-breaking GCSE and A-level results year after year ought to instil pride both in children and parents. And yet last month the Government that has presided over this incredible rise in achievement released figures showing that the number of children skipping school, preferring to hang listlessly around shopping precincts, has risen to its highest ever level.

Parents too are dissatisfied: last year, 62,000 households appealed against a school's refusal to take their child. And more than 1,000 were caught lying or cheating to try to get their child into the primary or secondary of their choice. "Choice" is the watchword of a Labour Government keen to recast parents as simple consumers. But there are some things too important to leave to market forces, and education is one. For make no mistake, it is money that buys choice. Money has always been a way of leaving the system altogether, but now even for those in state education it buys a house in the right catchment area, hires lawyers for the appeal when even renting a second "home" in that area didn't swing it and pays for private tutors to get your child through the myriad of entrance exams, the 11-plus, key stage 2 SATs.

And if you have enough money, even if not much to spare, to invest in your child's future, you're not just going to sit back and think "Well, at least we tried" when Ophelia or Felix ends up at the not so local, maybe even "sink" comprehensive, missing out on the better, closer option because it was only sixth on your list of back-ups. No, you're going to fight every inch of the way.

We can't blame these parents; we all want what we think is best for our children. And we have been led to believe that even the choice of "right" primary school can make or break the adult life of today's four-year-old. But what is best can vary from region to region, even council to council. I confess my daughters are at a selective school, but – and I do feel the need to justify our decision – if you live in Kent it is difficult to shake off the feeling that it would be next to neglect not to fight for a grammar school place, when the alternative is to leave your child to sink or swim in schools that even on open evenings can scarcely disguise an inferiority complex. We can blame a state system that allows such differences to flourish. Why should parents be faced with such contrasts when choosing that most basic of rights – education?

But this Labour Government has done little to narrow the gap. Instead, it has created even more schools that can cherry-pick the brightest children. The names vary: academies, city technology colleges and specialist schools, but selection is how they operate. And, of course, there are still faith-based institutions.

In the north-east London borough of Redbridge, where about one in 10 parents appealed against admission decisions last year, almost half the children are awarded a school place on some sort of selective principle, whether by one of the two grammars, four faith, or two foundation schools. That's eight out of the 17 schools available. When any school starts with the "bottom" half of the available 11-year-olds, who are there only because they lack academic prowess, a special talent, faith, or parents willing to take on the system, it's a very steep climb up the league table and into a parent's reckoning.

Now, Michael Gove, the Conservative counterpart to Education Secretary Ed Balls, believes the answer to the rise in admission appeals is to give parents even more choice. But the more you winnow, the more indigestible bran you leave behind, only in this case we are talking about children.

What most parents want is not more a boutique system, but homogenisation, so that each March they need not dread the post because whichever school your child is allocated will prepare them well for their adult lives.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: Cameron is running scared from the “empty chair”

Oliver Wright
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us