A Week in Education

9th March 2007 at 00:00
Is parental choice a meaningful reality in English education? It was a question many newspapers asked this week after Brighton and Hove council prompted the most high-profile schools admissions debate for years by announcing plans to use a lottery to select pupils for oversubscribed schools.

The row came amid reports that up to half of parents in some parts of England missed out on their first choice of school this month.

The Independent reported on the possibility of a High Court challenge over Brighton's decision, while The Times disclosed an upsurge in interest in local private schools. Meanwhile, estate agents groaned that property prices near popular schools could slide.

The conservative press lined up to condemn Brighton's decision. Johann Hari in The Independent was the only left-of-centre columnist willing to defend it.

Paul Ross offered another take in the Daily Star on Sunday: "I can't believe the bleating of some parents, who feel cheated because they can't get their kids into the school of their choice." He argued that parents should take responsibility for the achievements of their offspring rather than blaming schools, where children only spent a fraction of their waking hours.

The row may have given some private schools cause for jubilation. But any celebrations were cut short when the Charity Commission published proposals that fee-paying schools should lose their charitable status if they could not produce reports showing how they benefited the poor.

Sir Eric Anderson, the provost of Eton and former teacher of Tony Blair, David Cameron, and Prince Charles, wrote in the Telegraph that Britain was "sleepwalking into mediocrity".

Meanwhile, new uniform regulations excited the News of the World, which said they would lead to "hundreds of thousands of Muslim girls" being banned from wearing veils in school.

And a backlash appears to have started against random drug-testing. The Daily Mail reported the case of Megan Penn, 13, a model pupil at Colne community school in Essex, who tested positive for the dangerous drug crystal meth. It took weeks for a laboratory to discover what had caused a false reading. It was toothpaste.

THEY SAID...

Nobody wants to return to the appalling standards of these bad inner-city schools (Jim Knight, schools minister, on academies)

WE SAY...

Ever since the Government established its multi-million pound academies, it has claimed that the schools they replaced were failing, as Mr Knight did again when their key stage 3 results were below average.

But while academies often have challenging intakes, it is deeply misleading to say all predecessor schools were appalling. The TES revealed in 2005 that none of the first 25 schools to be superseded by academies were in special measures when they closed. Neither were any of the 18 schools that closed to make way for an academy last year.

Among the secondaries replaced have been a former beacon school, several thriving city technology colleges and a school described by inspectors as "outstanding". Not exactly "bad inner-city schools", Mr Knight.

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