Choice advisers guru claims his scheme is failing

4th December 2009 at 00:00
Programme to help poorer pupils is missing targets, says Blair aide who masterminded it

Choice advisers employed to help disadvantaged pupils win places in popular secondary schools are often not reaching the families they were supposed to, an architect of the scheme has admitted.

Conor Ryan was a senior education adviser to Tony Blair in 2005 when the choice adviser programme was dreamt up as part of the Government's controversial schools white paper.

Writing in The TES this week, he says choice advisers "were meant to be advocates for those without pushy elbows" from "poorer homes". He welcomes the fact that they now exist in all areas, but adds: "The bad news is that the service is too often poorly targeted."

Mr Ryan says choice advisers were always supposed to be wholly independent of local authorities and drawn from the communities they were designed to help, such as the "white working classes" and some ethnic minority groups.

"I had been particularly struck, for example, by the success of a young Somali woman graduate in persuading Muslim mothers in a Bristol school of the value of their daughters continuing in education after their GCSEs," he says, explaining what inspired the scheme.

But Mr Ryan writes today: "The service is inevitably hampered by time constraints and anxieties that suggest many of the advisers are not being drawn from the communities themselves."

His comments are only the latest to suggest the scheme is not working as originally intended.

Last month, Ian Craig, the chief schools adjudicator, said, in a report quoted by Mr Ryan, that in a small number of local authorities advisers' independence was "questionable".

The adjudicator also found that some authorities had "found it difficult to prioritise the most 'needy' and have responded (as they should) to all requests for help".

A study into the #163;15 million scheme, published by Sheffield Hallam University in September, was more damning.

It found the advisers, introduced in 2006, had only had contact with 0.8 per cent of parents, and were just as likely to help middle-class pupils as the target families.

The reforms had had only "a minimal effect on the numbers of poorer parents gaining entry to the more popular schools", the research said.

What happened to the choice advisers?, page 41.

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