All entries for Thursday 16 March 2006

March 16, 2006

Selectivity in education and school admissions

I'll start out by saying my mind is still open on this question – I am not for or against selection and I remain to be convinced either way.

In the last few weeks thanks to the Education Bill I have heard many arguments going back and forth about whether selection in schools is a good or bad thing. I think that this has been an unsatisfactory debate in many ways with a number of glaring inconsistencies on both sides. I would also suggest that the proponents of each argument seem to have little connection with the reality of how kids get into schools in practice and the implicit selection process already in operation.

1) Why is selection at primary and secondary level a big no no when we are more than happy to have a selective system at tertiary level – is there a specific reason why selection at 18 is any more valid than selection at 11? I can see an argument against selection at 5 – but is there a fundamental educational development issue that precludes selection at other stages?

2) We already have a selective education system, one based on wealth rather than ability. If I have lots of money I can move to areas with better schools or choose to privately educate my children. Why is this better than a system that selects on ability? Is a system that rewards ability but could 'leave behind' some children better than one that rewards wealth and leaves behind a different group.

3) Are schools already selective? I seem to remember in my school that whilst you could not select which pupils came to the school they sure as hell selected which pupils went into which class – we were streamed for Maths, science and languages. Why is this ok but the broader issue of selective admission not? Are schools still allowed to do this?

4) Is there a will to properly fund a truely comprehensive system and are parents really interested in an egalitarian education system. Are the resources available to ensure that comprehensives actually work or are we doomed to be a nation of could-have-beens.

5) Are trust schools really an answer to this? I find myself questioning the basis of trust schools on one hand and on the other asking myself how else do we fund improvements in schools. I have not heard a proper answer as to how school improvements could otherwise be funded without the cost being carried by general taxation – now this may be acceptable to the electorate but I would guess that the govt actually thinks it isn't the case.

6) Whose interests are we serving here. Does the comprehensive system benefit the average performer and cause problems for the top and bottom whilst selection helps the bottom and top whilst leaving the middle in limbo. Which scenario is in the national (and the childs) best interest? Is there a middle way which provides for the educational needs of all groups?

March 2006

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