The politics of choice

The much-trailed schools white paper was finally unveiled trumpeting the aim of “transforming the school system so that every child receives an excellent education”.

That is an objective no one would quarrel with. Unfortunately, those concerned with improving the life chances of vulnerable children will find much to challenge in this, the twelfth education white paper since 1997.

It’s no coincidence that the schools with poor academic results, and the biggest problems in terms of behaviour, serve deprived communities where parents, and their children, are struggling with a host of problems.

Every Child Matters recognises this, and places services designed to help these communities at their centre. It is barely mentioned in the white paper. Ditto extended schools, designed to be the hub from which universal services for children and their families operate.

The government wants schools to opt out of local authority control and to become self-governing trusts with a range of extra freedoms including, crucially, the power to set their own admissions policy. Parents, too, are to be given more power.

There are big problems here. Thanks to our league-table driven education system, schools are judged by results and are not about to voluntarily open their doors to vulnerable kids and the problems they may bring.

And by giving more power to parents, the danger is that it will be wielded by the already powerful, who will use it to make sure “hard to place” children do not get places at the high-performing schools attended by their children.

If the government wants to turn its rhetoric about fairness into a reality, and ensure vulnerable children get a good education, it needs an education system where no state school is able to select its pupils.  

Expecting schools that are flying high to voluntarily opt to take in a much more mixed and challenging cohort of kids is like expecting the turkeys to vote for Christmas.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.