The 'good school' myth

Parents will do anything to ensure their children get in to the `right' school, but statistics show that social background has far more impact on GCSE scores than where pupils are educated

William Stewart

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Last year, a mother of two in Ohio was jailed after lying about her address to get her daughters into a "better" school.

The severity of the punishment may be extraordinary. But the fact that Kelley Williams-Bolar was willing to risk prison shows just how high the stakes in the battle for school places have become.

Parents in England regularly pay tens of thousands of pounds extra to buy houses in the "right" school catchment areas. Others complete admissions forms fraudulently, while atheists attend church and baptise their children.

Winning a "good" school place has become the be-all and end-all in today's paranoid, hyper-competitive society. And it is not just the parents. Politicians are also convinced that it is schools that make the difference between success and failure in education.

For education secretary Michael Gove, they should be "engines of social mobility", while Prime Minister David Cameron says that "there is now irrefutable proof that the right schools . can transform the education of the most deprived children", whereas "weak schools smother children's potential".

Schools have become the currency of educational "standards". That is why ministers put so much pressure on them to improve. And it is why some heads resort to cheating Ofsted inspections and entering pupils for dubious qualifications that boost their league table scores - to demonstrate, at any cost, that they are improving.

But what if all this was for nothing? The parental nightmares, the sacked heads, the grand ministerial school-improvement plans, the league-table scams, the academy conversions - all completely pointless.

What if it made no difference at all what school you went to? What if your academic success was determined by factors completely outside your school's control - your parents' wealth, your ethnicity, your prior attainment?

What if your child's exam results could pretty much be predicted before you even began the race for a good place?

This is not some dystopian vision of the future. According to two recent analyses from respected sources, this is effectively the reality in England today.


You can read the full article in the April 6 issue of TES.

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William Stewart

William Stewart

William Stewart is News editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @wstewarttes

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