Wednesday, 10 January 2007

New schools admissions policy - a case of misplaced priorities?

Today the government announced that school admissions procedures are to be changed. But while the intentions are clearly good, what will the reality be?

These days, getting your child into not just the “right” school, but any school, has become incredibly stressful. It sometimes seems as if it’s partly a game – if you are brave enough to stick it out and wait until July or even August, then you may well find that your child does get a place at that popular, coveted, local institution. But if you just can’t bring yourself to leave your child school-less just a month before he or she is supposed to start reception, then you’ll probably accept what you’ve been given (or not given in our case – our daughter got into none of our local schools. Fortunately she is now at a lovely, local faith school).

In our case, the nearest school (and only one within walking distance) is excellent. It’s so excellent, in fact, that it is incredibly hard to get into, and unless you live about 100 yards away, you have little chance. (In fact, we discovered that the people we bought our house from moved up the road so their children could attend this school).

Moving nearer to the right school is exactly the kind of behaviour the government is keen to stop. It’s true that it works against having a good social mix, because house prices near the school become so expensive. But I’m not totally sure that a “school-places lottery” is the answer.

What the government doesn't seem to understand is that most parents want their children to go to a good (not necessarily the best) local school, which is in walking distance. Surely the best thing to do is not expand the catchment area via a lottery, so that other children have to be driven or bussed to school, but to improve the not-so good other local schools, so parents want to send their children there. It seems like a case of misplaced priorities, and also appears to be quite an un-environmentally sound policy, as it works against the most local children (and I, of course, say this as someone who didn't exactly benefit from the current admissions procedures)

In any case, by keeping the siblings rule (which the government has agreed to), it probably won't help that many people anyway. At our local school, there were 24 siblings last year (out of a class of 30!)

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