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'Seven times more likely to protest'

The English contest school place decisions more often than the Scots. David Budge reports

Parents in England are seven times more likely than the Scots to lodge an appeal in an attempt to get a child into a chosen school.

Latest statistics show that 41,389 appeals were lodged by English parents who were dissatisfied with school allocation decisions in 1995. In Scotland, however, only 596 appeals were made, according to the Council of Tribunals.

The disparity has been highlighted by Professor Michael Adler of Edinburgh University who has been monitoring the impact of parental choice policies since the early 1980s. In an article in the British Educational Research Journal he suggests why English appeals tribunals have a much heavier workload.

"There is less of a tradition of collectivism and rather greater enthusiasm for rugged individualism in England - especially in the south - than in Scotland," he says.

"There is likewise probably more dissatisfaction with schooling and less respect for traditional forms of educational governance in England."

He believes that Scottish secondaries have stronger links with their associated primaries and local communities. Furthermore, social stratification is probably even more pronounced in England than in Scotland and parents are more likely to choose schools on ethnic grounds south of the border.

Nevertheless, the Scots have no reason to be complacent, Professor Adler says. As recent research by Doug Willms has shown, parental choice policies in Scotland have led to increased social polarisation, particularly in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Paisley, Aberdeen and Dundee.

Professor Adler also believes that the failure to encourage diversity between schools is almost certainly increasing the extent of parental dissatisfaction in Scotland. Between 1984-85 and 1994-95 the proportion of primary school placement requests from parents that was granted fell from 96.7 per cent to 91.4 per cent. The corresponding figures for secondary schools were 91. 6 per cent and 83.2 per cent.

"Whether there is more dissatisfaction with school choice in Scotland or in England is hard to say," Professor Adler concludes. "But since choice is probably here to stay, the challenge for policy-makers is to find some way of avoiding the conundrum of having choice (in one form or another) but minimising its adverse consequences for the many parents who are currently disappointed, for the many children who are currently short-changed or for the principles of equity and justice. The challenge for policy researchers is to devise research which will contribute to the solution of this problem."

The full text of Professor Adler's article, "Parental Choice and Educational Policy", appears in the June issue of the British Educational Research Journal. Copies can be obtained, priced Pounds 10, from Carfax Publishing, PO Box 25, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 3UE

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