Richard Garner: All that parents want is a decent secondary school

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The Independent Online

No sane person could do anything but welcome yesterday's ruling that Poole Council was wrong to spy for three weeks on an innocent mother seeking a school place for her daughter.

That said, the problem remains that hundreds of parents do bend the rules to try to parachute their children into the school of their choice.

They rent rooms for a short period in the catchment area of the school; turf tenants out of homes they have rented if they happen to be in the right catchment area; even pretend that their marriage has broken up and that they are permanently living in a relative's house near the school (marital bliss is suddenly rediscovered after the child secures that coveted place).

To some extent this is the fault of politicians, who have always banged the drum in favour of parents having freedom of choice over which school to select for their child. The blunt truth is that they don't have freedom of choice. If the school is full up, it's full up.

Letting popular schools expand – a policy adopted by both Conservative and Labour politicians in the past – will not solve the problem. Part of a school's attraction may be that it is not a vast secondary school with up to 2,000 pupils, but is smaller and more personal.

It might sound simplistic, but all that parents want is a decent secondary school for their children, regardless of whether it is a comprehensive, an academy or is run by a faith group.

This could be achieved by putting more effort into improving standards across the board, rather than constantly restructuring the way our schools are run.

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