Monday, 3 March 2008

School Places - A middle-class rant

There is a lot of talk on the TV and Radio this morning about school places. Apparently, today is the day when parents across the country find out if they have got their child into the school of their choice. You see, in the UK we supposedly have “parental choice” when it comes to which school kids go to at aged 11. In reality, for ten years and more now, the best schools have taken the ‘best’ kids” (by which I don’t just mean the academically gifted, but simply the kids least likely to cause trouble) and the worst sink schools have ended up with the kids that no-one else wants – the trouble makers, the disaffected, the not bothereds.

But this year, the government has changed the rules by which places at schools are awarded. There is now a list of reasons that school cannot use to award places. No longer can places be awarded based on how close to the school you live, because the richest parents can afford to buy houses near good schools at a premium (of around £100000 per house apparently) and this is clearly not fair. But is it fair on the homeowners whose house value will now plummet because the ‘good school premium’ no longer applies?

You can also not award places based on academic ability – although you can on musical, artistic or sporting ability. Places cannot be award based on parental interview, or willingness of the parents to contribute to the ‘ethos’ of the school. In other words, a school that has spent many years getting the learning atmosphere of he school right and has encouraged parents to take an active part in their child’s education, will now be forced to take kids who’s parent’s don’t give a damn and aren’t going to help out in any way.

Essentially, the government has changed the rules to ‘help ensure that young people (we’re not allowed to call them children any more) from disadvantaged backgrounds are given the chance to attend the best schools’. Or, to put it another way – “We think that if you work hard to give your family the best start in life, it means nothing, and instead we’re going to disadvantage you in favour of people who couldn’t be bothered to work hard.”

I come from a solidly working class background. My father worked so hard to provide for us that I rarely saw him – at times he was working two jobs. But my parents wanted more for me. They taught me the value of education and, even though I didn’t go to the best school, I worked hard and got my rewards. I’d now consider myself solidly middle-class. But does this mean that my son should be put at a disadvantage because of the hard work of his parents and grand-parents? I’ve worked hard so that I can give my son a better start than I had, so that he can go to a better school than I did and so that he can do even better out of life than I did. Isn’t that what all good parents want?

And yet, if this system continues, his place at a good school might be given to the child of a family who don’t value education, who won’t encourage their child to do well, and who treat school as a free baby-sitting service. A child who may well disrupt the education of the other children at the school, and who’s parent’s will then complain when his is ‘punished’ (although, schools have very little power to actually punish children these days).

What will happen is that rather than working to bring the ‘bad’ schools up to the standard of the good ones, this system will bring the standard of the good schools down to the bad ones. Applications for private school this year have gone through the roof as parents like me fear what will happen to state schools and opt to pay for their child’s education instead. This new system will, far from ‘killing off’ the private schools (as is the governments aim) it will strengthen them.

I fear for the education of future generations in this country. I fear for the future of this country. And I am thankful that my son is half-French, because at this rate, I’ll be sending him to school in France, where I know he’ll get the education he deserves.

Rant over.


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