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Parent choice divides Glasgow

Placing requests have stripped neighbourhood secondaries of brightest pupils

Glasgow is now as divided educationally as Edinburgh, a forthcoming study from the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University warns.

The centre, one of the Government's least favoured research organisations, says a two-tier system of magnet schools and less popular neighbourhood secondaries has developed as a result of parental choice. This was the major subtext of the centre's conference on school effectiveness and improvement at Edinburgh University on Monday.

Doug Willms, author of several reports on school choice, has found that over the past 10 years school provision in Glasgow has become as socially divided as in Edinburgh. As a result placing requests are stripping less popular schools of some of their brightest pupils.

Professor Willms says that prior to the Government's campaign on choice Glasgow secondaries were relatively homogeneous. Now an uneven balance is beginning to affect the gains made by comprehensive education. "What kind of vision of a community will we have when this device is taken to the extreme?" he asks.

The study looked at the 50 communities in Scotland where parents have at least one other secondary to choose from. Choice increased segregation in most areas but especially in Glasgow, Dundee and Paisley. The effect was less marked in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Norman MacLeod, headteacher of Bearsden Academy, one of Strathclyde's most popular schools, acknowledged the change in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One-third of his roll, 416 out of 1,280 pupils, are on placing requests, most from Drumchapel and Clydebank. There were 80 requests last year against a handful 10 years ago.

Mr MacLeod said: "There is added pressure on a school that is already fairly full and it has the opposite effect in Glasgow where schools are losing pupils they can ill afford to lose. Politicians in East Dunbarton are looking at schools that are full and getting concerned about educating children from another authority."

Ken Corsar, director of education in Glasgow, commented: "There is no doubt that placing requests cause considerable movement and at some stage in their school career 40 per cent of young people in Glasgow schools are there because of placing requests. There is potentially an issue affecting the make-up of a particular school but we need to do more research on why parents move their children. Exam analysis can be affected by placing requests."

Glasgow is shortly to embark on a programme of closures, partly dictated by the effects of parental choice. Mr Corsar said that in his opinion merged secondaries that increased in size could become more effective.

Meanwhile, the CES's study of school effectiveness in Grampian secondaries (TESS, November 24), which challenged the Government's emphasis on raw examination scores, has shown that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do better at schools with an intake based on high socio-economic status. Nevertheless, pupils on placing requests generally perform below their peers.

The Grampian findings reveal substantial differences between schools in average attainment of leavers but that most of the difference is attributable to differences in pupil intakes.

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