Better by far?

18th July 2003 at 01:00
Still on the parents theme, we publish the views of Andrew Haldenby, research director of Reform, the public services think-tank (page 15), on the need to give parents much more direct control over schools. If you think this is American fantasy, Tony Blair may not be a million miles away from agreeing that greater equity and social justice require far more consumer choice in education. Consider the advent of foundation hospitals south of the border and you can find resonances of right-wing policy that is swamping the centre ground. School structures are already far more varied in England.

We would hope we are well distanced from such structural tinkering, as we are with foundation hospitals. But how immune are we in our drive for greater diversity and flexibility? Are these terms a smokescreen for more radical agendas recently espoused on these pages by Ross Martin, the former local authorities education convener? How reformist is Jack McConnell's administration?

To some extent, we already have a consumerist agenda. We have had parental choice of school for more than 20 years and a track record of unpopular schools - secondaries in urban areas - closing as parents vote with their transfers. Parental choice does not extend much beyond that. Survey after survey shows that parents want their local school to offer a rich variety of opportunities, care for its pupils and do the best for them. We should stick by our improvement agenda.

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