Matthew Dancona

The schools battle

The schools battle
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As Jonathan Freedland and Coffee House favourite Steve Richards have pointed out, the row over school admissions is turning into a proper Left-Right punch-up. And quite right, too. For much too long, the most publicly visible battle lines (expertly drawn by Gordon Brown) have been between “Labour investment versus Tory cuts” – mostly nonsense, but politically adhesive.

Now, there is a different and no less rowdy argument rising in prominence: namely between the central control of the supply of public goods and the drive to make public service institutions free of central control and encourage diversity. As it happens, I rather like Ed Balls – sorry, CoffeeHousers – and, as I said in my Sunday Telegraph column he is a clever and quick-witted politician. But it is quite wrong of his ideological champions to believe that, in this row, he on the side of the mass of parents. The Admissions Code may indeed be (regrettably) the law of the land, but it is being applied here with condign literalism. As the Daily Telegraph reveals today, the Jewish schools that seek voluntary donations from parents are fighting back with clear evidence that subverts the claim that such contributions are fees in all but name.

Johann Hari argues in the Independent today that enforcement of the code is best for the least affluent pupils. Fraser’s evidence from the Swedish model suggests that diversity is a better way of ensuring that the less well-off get a fair chance. It is excellent that this is now becoming a front-line row. Let battle continue!