Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Too little choice

In a post below, I argued that parents were being presented with too much choice in terms of secondary schools. Well, alea jacta est and all that - we've put our names down for our first and second choice for our oldest child.

However, in what was always intended to be a companion post to the earlier one, I wanted also to comment that parents have too little choice - yes, both too much and too little.

The trivial side of this is that there is no obvious school where children can go in which we will be confident that they will make the most of their potential. In a less trivial sense, for the Sept 2004 admission, of the 53 secondary schools in Surrey, 32 were oversubscribed on the basis of parental first choice (which in Surrey is frankly the only choice that has any significance). 2270 parents didn't receive their first choice of state secondary school in one county. This represents a huge level of stress and worry to a vast number of parents.

The government argues that the solution is increasing parental choice; making more options available; allowing successful schools to expand. But if schools get too large, they become unchangeable - and in many cases, the success or otherwise of a school is down to a couple of key people in the senior management team. Most parents aren't able to explore new school options for reasons of time and their own abilities - and in any case, the regulatory framework is such that this is simply never going to be a feasible option in more than a handful of cases.

The real solution has to be improving the quality of the schools. Parents need to be confident that regardless of where their children end up, they are going to get a good, consistent education, in which teachers were well-motivated, well-supervised, good practices propagate through the whole school, and in which failing or even coasting are simply not tolerated. Choice isn't the key thing - quality is - and regardless of political dogma, choice isn't guaranteed to bring quality.