Saturday, October 01, 2005

Too much choice

The problem with admissions to secondary schools where we are is that there is too much choice.

Of the local state secondary schools:
  • one has an integrated sixth form college, is a "Business and Enterprise Specialist School", and has an annual intake of 240.

  • one has had a bad reputation for many years, but is improving under the direction of a new head. It only has 160 children in each year.

  • one is a secondary school that is specifically ecumenical by foundation. Preference is given to people who can get the vicar of a nearby church to lie about how often they attend church. People who are actively involved in the wrong sort of evangelical churches will be discriminated against, the strength of their Christian commitment notwithstanding. It admits 270 children per year.

  • one is (basically) a state boarding school, again with an improving reputation, a small intake, long holidays and classes on Saturday mornings.

  • one is a very large comprehensive (300+ children per year), which has had a good reputation for a long time but now seems to be coasting.

  • This doesn't really take into consideration such issues as results, "value added", extra-curricular activities or ease of access. It also ignores out-of-area schools and private schools.

    The government would have you think that this is what parents really want. But it isn't. All we want is a school in which our child will be treated as an individual and will fulfil his or her potential - both academically and in other areas.

    In particular, I am concerned about the specialisation of schools. We were told that, being a "Business and Enterprise Specialist" school meant that the business studies and enterprise angle had an impact on all areas of the curriculum. Now, firstly, there is no need for any specialisation up to age 16 (unless children are sure they want to move in a particularly vocational direction) - there is no reason why education can't be completely "general" - in the sense of the old "General Certificate of Education" - it is learning about the world for the sake of learning. Secondly, I am troubled by a specific focus on business and enterprise. Of course, business and enterprise would love to have children educated to believe that business and enterprise is the goal of society - the summum bonum. But this is putting the cart before the horse. Business and enterprise ought to be informed by the ethical and social dimensions taught in a general education; they ought not to be controlling those dimensions. Forget schools that have a religious foundation, and the fact that this disturbs Richard Dawkins - what does he think the impact will be of children being brought up to believe that the world revolves around business and enterprise?

    Other schools focus on "technology", "sports", "engineering", "modern languages" - or any number of other things. Perhaps these are potentially less harmful focuses (foci) - but I suspect that whilst they may attract the interest of sponsorship, they will lead children to believe that education has no value in itself, but only insofar as it is directed towards a specific goal.

    But choice, we are told, is what we want, so choice is what we get - between a range of unsuitable and undesirable options.