Letter: Parental choice means responsibility

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The Independent Online
Sir: In her article 'For the selected few, a bright future' (27 July), Marie Nic Suibhne writes: 'Primary school heads, with rare exceptions, fail to act in the best interests of their pupils when it comes to finding a secondary school.' Upon what evidence is this condemnation based?

While not yet a head, I have for some years been responsible for helping my Year 6 pupils (and their parents) through the minefield of transfer between schools. Much time and energy, not to mention considerable funding on a county-wide basis, are devoted to ensuring that each individual child is as happy and settled as possible in his or her new environment. The process takes pretty well a whole academic year, beginning in the autumn prior to transfer.

Ms Nic Suibhne assumes that it is the responsibility of primary heads to advise parents and pupils on their choice of secondary school. To give such advice would be at best unprofessional and at worst downright unethical. Parents now enjoy complete freedom of choice under the Parents' Charter, but there are two often overlooked consequences of this. One is that individual secondary schools are now in the business of competing for available pupils, and each expects a fair chance in the open marketplace. None would welcome interference from primary heads, turning away potential customers. Indeed, the practice is widely discouraged by Local Education Authorities.

The other consequence of parental choice is that it carries with it parental responsibility. It is for parents to decide where to send their children. Heads and teachers will gladly advise parents on their child's strengths and weaknesses, and any special requirements they may have. Parents are then free to use this information when choosing a school. But they cannot, and should not, expect their child's primary head to do their job for them.

Yours faithfully,

ROBERT HOWE

Stotfold, Hertfordshire

29 July

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