Alex Massie

School Choice Q&A

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Fraser's report from Michael Gove's education reform shindig today is a must-read. I agree with him that this is the key point Gove, Cameron and the Tories need to make: "In your neighbourhood, there will be a new school going out of its way to persuade you to send your children there. It will market itself on being able to generate better results, and it won’t cost you an extra penny."

Commenting on my last post on the matter, David asked these questions:

What happens when the school is oversubscribed by parents wanting to exercise their choice?

Is this really such a terrible problem? N-one would suggest that people shouldn't be able to choose their university simply because Oxford and Cambridge and the LSE and countless courses at universities around the country are over-subscribed. Reforms that free schools from the tyranny of LEAs and empower parents and headteachers alike provide incentives (since money follows pupils) for successful schools to expand either on their existing premises or by setting up new schools to cope with increased demand.

How will the popular school select the pupils lucky enough to go there?

My own preferene would be for there to be a lottery.

How will the parents denied entry to the popular school exercise their choice?

The same way that pupils applying to university do: by ranking their choices and, if denied their top choice, moving on to their second selection. Experience from New Zealand suggests the great majority of pupils end up in their first choice school and that almost all attend either their first or second choice.

What will happen to 'sink' schools that are never chosen, and to the pupils that will have to go to them?

Ideally, some of those schools would close, as successful schools expand and the market determines matters. Under-performing schools, however, every incentive to improve and, if freed from state control, a much greater chance of doing so. This is, for sure, a long-term process that won't happen overnight. But fears about those kids who may be left behind, while understandable, ignore the fact that too many children are being left behind right now. Furthermore, study after study has shown that parental involvement is a key determining factor in educational outcomes. Anything that increases that involvement - as choice does - is likely to be a good thing. Clearly, of course, there are some limits to this: most of these reforms are most likely to see their greatest impact in metropolitan rather than rural areas. But that's another matter entirely.


Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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