Pleasing 'Emperor' Adonis

7th December 2007 at 00:00

The spectacle of a principal and a school head doing battle for post- 16 funding (page 1) is the inevitable manifestation of a policy that flies in the face of student interests.

Colleen Chater, principal of The Sixth Form College Solihull, and Ann Green, head of Arden School, have enough professional experience to know what is best for teenagers. It would be easy, therefore, to condemn both for putting institutional self-interest first. But it is natural that they should each believe their institution serves 16-year-olds best.

The Government's role should be to come to a strategic view of what is in the interests of the borough's teenagers. Instead, the system forces schools and colleges into an intellectual fight to the death in which arguments about provision, competition and economies of scale are used to clobber each other until one stands victorious.

On this occasion the losing party, Mrs Chater, has fallen on her sword and the emperor - Lord Adonis, schools minister - has made his own sympathies clear by sending a letter of congratulations to the victor before the blood has even dried.

The "presumption" policy, under which schools have a right of appeal but colleges have none, is a clear signal that ministers believe the market knows best. Indeed it does, but there is a danger of being disingenuous about market principles when the "customer" - ie, student - is ignored.

If Mrs Chater's prediction is correct, and some of her college's more unusual courses are dropped, perhaps Lord Adonis would like to write to the students who have lost out and explain why their aspirations have, paradoxically, been sacrificed on the altar of choice.

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