The lottery for school places

The seaside city of Brighton & Hove suffers an endemic problem; a few excellent, over-subscribed schools, and many poor to average ones. A situation which characterizes state education in this country as a whole.


Competition for places at the good schools in Brighton is predictably fierce, but last year the system of
selection by catchment area was deemed to be unfair, privileging as it does those able to buy or rent property near good schools. However the preferred solution to this problem, the introduction of lotteries in the awarding of school places, has not only failed to provide more families with their first choice, it also epitomises everything that is wrong with recent - and forthcoming - education reform by the government.


Figures out today reveal that 22 per cent of parents in Brighton failed to get their children into their preferred school, compared to 16 per cent in 2007. If you believe in choice - by which I mean genuine choice, not political-speak choice - and in the idea that all children should be entitled to an excellent education, the statistics present a depressing picture.


But what must be realised is that these aspirations - genuine choice and excellent education for all - are not the motivation driving reforms such as the introduction of lotteries. Instead, such efforts to manipulate the school selection process reflect the damaging and inhibiting socialist attitude to education which continues to dominate schools policy. The intention of 'lotteries' and the like is not to ensure more children get into good schools, but to ensure that the misery of bad schooling is spread more equitably across income brackets.


It reflects a mis-diagnosis of the problem, which leads in turn to the wrong prescription. What is needed in Brighton - and the UK as a whole - is genuine competition between schools, wherein good schools can expand to offer more places (or take over failing schools) and poor schools can feel the pressure of the market and be forced to either improve or close down. Brighton and Hove's local education authority were not wrong in identifying the allocation of schooling by postcode as unfair. But their solution, lotteries for school places, actually perpetuates the real, substantive problem they face: a lack of places at good schools. The actual outcome of the lotteries is to insulate poor schools from the rigors of genuine competition. The power to chose schools needs to be taken out of the hands of bureaucrats with a anachronistic, socialist agenda, who claim to have the best interests of 'society' at heart, and returned to parents, who have the best interests of their children at heart.


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