MPs attack admissions

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Ministers will be accused of failing to ensure a fair deal for poor pupils as part of a three-pronged attack on the present system of secondary school admissions.

The House of Commons education select committee will criticise the Government for pretending that parents can choose schools when in many cases it is the schools that choose parents.

The MPs are concerned that oversubscribed faith and foundation schools use their freedom from local authorities to select pupils according to their social background.

Well-to-do parents are also able to manipulate the system by moving close to popular schools or lying about their faith, they are expected to say in a report to be published in the next few weeks.

Their call for reform will be supported by the Social Market Foundation.

Later this summer, it will publish a report calling for faith schools to be stripped of their right to select pupils on the basis of religion.

Places at all oversubscribed schools should be allocated by a lottery in order to ensure that every child has an equal chance of a place at a good school, the pro-free market think tank will say.

Philip Collins, SMF director, will present his ideas at a Downing Street seminar in the next few weeks.

"People in government recognise that a lottery has a better chance of delivering the sort of social mix they want in schools," he said.

Yesterday, Professor Stephen Ball of London university's Institute of Education used the King's college, London, lecture on Thursday to attack the effect of market forces on school admissions.

He said the pressure to improve standards has led schools to view pupils as "commodities" which can either enhance or damage their league table standing.

"In effect, schools compete to recruit those students most likely to contribute to improvements, easiest and cheapest to teach and most likely to contribute to the attraction of others like them.

"The child becomes a means to an end - a thing. Valued for their value-added or stigmatised by their costliness."

Appeals by parents who have failed to win a place for their child at their first choice secondary have increased by 50 per cent since Labour came to power.

But ministers have so far refused to bow to pressure to overhaul the current system which allows schools and local authorities to decide which pupils should be accepted.

Analysis 18

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