Parents choose to avoid trouble

20th October 2006 at 01:00
When will our politicians begin to address the real problems in our schools? Do Assembly member William Graham and Conservative group leader Nick Bourne really believe that greater parental choice will transform our education service? ("Close down the bad schools", TES Cymru, October 6).

What is so magical about choice? Scarcely a day goes by without its being invoked to justify some policy or other, with the implicit assumption that it is a good thing. It is capable of meaning different things to different people and cannot be challenged without inviting ridicule or incredulity.

It panders to the aspirations of contemporary society. It seems to induce intellectual paralysis.

Anybody familiar with admissions procedures knows that what is uppermost in the minds of parents when choosing a school is concern about the kind of children who will be attending.

It is the character of the intake which tends to determine parental and local perceptions of good and poor schools. This is what helps to sustain independent schools and to explain the escape culture which is such a marked feature of attitudes to public services.

In public education, it means seeking places in schools with the fewest undesirable pupils.

And it is these pupils who are the problem for Mr Graham and Mr Bourne - and for Mr Blair and Sir Cyril Taylor. In a public service which has to provide for all, they have to go somewhere. Wherever that is becomes the place to be avoided, despite all that some committed and heroic heads and staff achieve.

So why are so many politicians advocating more choice when the last thing that many parents want are better opportunities for the most difficult to get into the best schools?

Could it be that, contrary to the rhetoric, it is more about giving concerned parents hope that those who want to, and are in a position to do so, will be able to escape from a local school with too many of the wrong kind of pupils? Imagine their horror if the school they have been trying to avoid is closed and its pupils transferred to the one they have chosen.

There has been enormous progress in the past 60 years in creating greater opportunities for all. The challenge is what to do with those children and parents who are not interested in taking advantage of those opportunities, and who cannot or will not accept the standards and expectations of schools, teachers and most parents.

Is there a political party out there prepared to address this?

John Till Regional officer (north and mid Wales) Professional Association of Teachers

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