Letter: Schools with a middle-class bias

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your Parents' Choice supplement on schools reflects middle- class, predominantly Home Counties, parents' choice and opportunity. It has been compiled by middle-class parents for middle- class parents and is clearly the product of suburban middle-class parental power.

The overwhelming majority of the schools selected are praised for their academic excellence, range of resources (largely paid for by the parents) and the high proportion of parents who attend PTA meetings. Some of the selected fee-paying schools (your list is heavily weighted in favour of these) boast a high take-up of assisted places, but it is a known fact that these places are occupied by the children of middle-class parents, often single parents, who have fallen on hard times.

The few selected schools located in areas of social and economic deprivation are either former grammar schools, highly selective and in more affluent neighbourhoods, or are defined as successful in terms of the quality of resources available for children who have different cultural experiences, special needs or learning difficulties.

So within your pages is a celebration of the consequence of government policy. The hierarchy of 'good' schools now depends on the degree of parental assertiveness, aspiration, ambition, privilege and power, and therefore on levels of parental involvement, rather than on state funding, which at least has the power and authority to redistribute resources to the areas of greatest need.

Your newspaper merely confirms the fact that, increasingly, schools are exacerbating social inequalities rather than compensating for them, because of parental choice. In west Cornwall, the second most deprived area in the country after Merseyside, there are pockets of acute disadvantage. Children from the poorer housing estates and the communities where the tin mines have closed and where fishing and agriculture have declined, predominate in 'special' units for those with learning difficulties and behavioural problems.

In inner-city areas, the problems that children take to school, the product of lack of parental opportunity and choice, must be encountered in every classroom. How can such schools possibly compete? These are visibly absent from your list.

Your Parents' Choice reads like a series of glossy brochures, reflecting middle-class self-congratulation and complacency. I look forward to a Parents' Choice linked to measures of social and economic disadvantage, such as levels of relative poverty, state benefit dependency, homelessness, numbers of children in care, housing tenure, unemployment, crime rates, low pay and ethnic diversity.

Yours sincerely,

RITA PACKFORD

Penzance, Cornwall

6 July

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