There has been a widespread expression of shock at the grave breaches of admissions rules committed by schools in Manchester, Barnet and Northamptonshire. A ‘large minority’ of schools in these areas have been asking banned questions about parental income and marital status, and some have been charging parents fees to secure places, at times for hundreds of pounds per term.
The outrage expressed at yesterday’s revelations goes beyond that prompted by schools breaking the rules – it is an attack on the covert, or not so covert, selection procedures employed by some schools that threaten to favour the advantaged and accentuate social divides. Never mind that until last February the rules preventing voluntary aided and foundation schools from using such means to select their intake did not exist – there has been a policy shift towards fairness in selection procedures and there seems to have been a shift in expectations to match.
However, this particular admissions controversy comes only two weeks after a similar storm over the number of parents who did not get the first choice of school for their children (see the recent post ‘A festival for journos, an unhelpful distraction for everyone else’, February 26, 2008).
The twin expectations implied by these outcries: that parents should be able to exercise choice over which school their child attends, and that schools and parents must submit to ‘fair’ selection procedures do not sit easily together. Choice inevitably leads to competition for the best schools, and competition tends to mean that someone is going to lose out. The practice of throwing one’s hands up in horror over any given admissions story fails to help parents, students and schools understand this very real dilemma.
If you are interested hearing more about these issues and want to have your say, the RSA will host a lecture in partnership with Edge on 31st March on Diversity of Provision in Education. For more details see http://www.rsa.org.uk/events/detail.asp?eventID=2498