October 24, 2005

School Admissions & LEAs

The telegraph reports on Tony Blairís proposals to change secondary school admission procedures. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) are against Blairís idea of allowing parents to know the outcome of 11-plus exams (for grammar schools) before being made to give their preferences for comprehensive or grammar schools.

Diana Grant, a mother of two from Broadstairs in Kent, who planned a legal challenge to the policy before the U-turn, said councils should not be able to veto the change.

"The current arrangements are appalling and must be changed because parents are left not knowing what to do for the best. The Government's U-turn on this was a victory for common sense. Expectations of parental choice were raised, and then obstacles are put up at a local level."

Councils who have lodged objections to the early release of the results claim it would give parents who want to apply to grammar school "two bites of the cherry".

To elaborate on the last point, hereís a paragraph from the DfES School Admissions Code of Practice

In those areas where grammar schools exist, parents should be asked to express school preferences before they know the outcome of selective tests. Adjudicators have consistently held that to delay the expression of preferences until parents interested in grammar schools know whether their children do or do not meet selective schoolsí entry standards is unfair to other parents who want a place only at a non-selective school or schools.

The LEAs would rather not have places at the best comprehensive schools going to pupils who choose it merely because of an unsuccessful grammar school application.

This in itself doesnít seem like a great justification of the current admissions process. I can see why schools would rather take on people for whom it was first choice, rather than others who saw it as a backup. Still, it seems harsh to effectively punish parents who merely sought the best possible education for their child. The Telegraph article also states that many who would like a grammar school education end up applying for popular comprehensive schools anyway, for fear of being left with a lower standard comprehensive if 11-plus results donít turn out as expected. Itís therefore impossible to judge the Ďdedicationí of applicants to a given comprehensive under either process.

Additionally, the objections to allowing parents have 11-plus results beforehand fails to put the proposal in the wider context of Blairís strategy. Education minister Ruth Kelly seeks to bring secondary school choices forward in time and to give schools the power to expand. This would give popular schools the permission and time to take measures to cater for greater than expanded demand, increasing the likelihood of people getting their preferred choice whether or not their ideal choice was a comprehensive.

Taking an even broader view, need to ration access to a good education, as championed by the LEAs, stems from not just restrictions on the expansion of existing schools but on failure to encourage the creation of all together new schools by parents, charities and profit making institutions. Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly seem to be making baby-steps towards greater freedom in education, but Iím not optimistic for the future. Who genuinely thinks LEAs will approve of plans to radically cut their span of command over the education administration?

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