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BBC: The Big School Lottery

Well, after my quick comment on this last week, I thought I’d better watch it. If you didn’t you can catch up on iPlayer.

Although not about faith schools they did appear prominently. In fact, I found the whole thing quite depressing. The UK’s schools admissions systems is not only distorted by faith schools but there are also catchment areas and, in some places, grammar schools to consider. (Let’s not even get into private education.)

Each of these has it’s own insidious effect I would imagine. Grammar schools – all very well if your child passes the 11+ but what if she doesn’t? What if (as I believe happens) one of your children passes and the other doesn’t? Catchment areas? The best schools are in the more affluent areas due to the intake, so more parents want to move there, so house prices rise, and so on.

The programme was (in the first episode at least) just a presentation of what actually happens. Although this gives the lie to the Government’s “parental choice” mantra it doesn’t go anywhere towards looking at what can be done to improve the system. It did not address this question at all with respect to faith schools or grammar schools. There was an attempt to ask about the fairness of catchment areas when they questioned the woman who was in charge of admissions in Birmingham1 if she sympathised with parents giving false addresses to get the schools they wanted.

I hope that the subsequent programmes in this series  look at this – or it will be a glaring omission. It seems to me that the inequalities created by faith schools are the least  justified  and the most easily addressed. Opponents of grammar schools may feel the same way, but I haven’t looked into this. Catchment areas are probably the hardest problem to address.

It’s worth contrasting with the recent Dawkins film where just one problem with the admissions system was looked at and – crucially – the questions of fairness, the impact on teaching some subjects, and social cohesion were examined.

1 This was the funniest moment in the film. When she was going about spying on houses to see if the child really did live where the parents said they did, she said something like “we do this to help parents identify where they live”. No you don’t. The parents know damn well where they live: you’re doing it to identify parents who are lying on their application form!

  1. ruth wilson
    22/09/2010 at 1:18 pm

    My son is involved in the big school lottery in Birmingham this year and it is proving to be a depressing experience for us all. Despite being on the gifted and talented register for science we have been told that because of the catchment area he will not stand a chance of getting a place at the only local specialist science acadamy. Instead he will have to go to either a specialist art school or a language college, this is mad and is denying a bright boy who is passionate about science the chance he deserves. Shame his parents can’t afford to move a mile up the road! Hope the government will do something to allow schools to choose a certain percentage of pupils outside of catchment who are talented in their area of specialism.

    • 22/09/2010 at 8:36 pm

      I know I’ve mainly looked into faith schools and their unfairness, but the TV programme showed that the admissions process for British secondary schools is broken in lots of other ways too. I have noticed that my local secondary schools proclaim things like “A modern languages college” or “A science and technology specialist” but haven’t taken too much notice. I had presumed that the value of these would be more relevant in bigger cites where parents would get a choice.

      But if in Birmingham this is not the case, I wonder what the point of such specialisms are? They can only have a detrimental effect if a child like your son feels he will not get the science education he could have because he is at a “modern languages” school.

    • don
      09/12/2010 at 1:20 pm

      I feel your pain and anger, but if he is so bright, then he should go to the grammar school. you have some in your region so you are lucky.

      Otherwise, he is not really that bright, and you should start to prepare him for some lower wage jobs like cleaning the streets, etc. Otherwise you will just add another unemployed frustrated person to our already large enough unemployed stock list.

      This country is full of so smart people, and then everyone is overqualivied to do anything. If you are smart prove it.

      At least he is lucky enough to have a mother who cares. I know many kids whose parents do do even know what a grammar school is and their parents need to be chased up at school to even submit the secondary education transform form. This is a problem, not your one of “smart son who is not so smart after all”/

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