Privilege is not what they want

24th September 2004 at 01:00
So parents think Tony Blair has not given education the priority he promised (page 1). But there are also messages in the TES Cymru poll for Cardiff's politicians. Selection by ability was resoundingly rejected by the parents, as it has been by the Labour-controlled Welsh Assembly.

"Priority for children living nearest" and "admitting a cross-section of abilities" are the most popular ways of deciding who goes where.

The Conservatives need to listen unless they want to be seen as the party for those who seek advantage for their child at the expense of others. But our poll suggests Labour could afford to be bolder too about balancing intakes. The Westminster Government claims to have ensured "fair admissions" but it remains to be seen whether its policies will halt - let alone reverse - the social, religious and racial segregation of pupils produced in urban areas by competition and laissez-faire admissions policies.

This stratification of schools is both the cause and effect of much parental anxiety about their local school, particularly in the big cities where parents are noticeably choosier. They are more inclined to favour faith schools, and this group of parents are also most likely to have consulted the league tables. As the admissions adjudicator might have put it this week (page 15), the Lord helps those who help themselves.

But most parents in Wales ignore league tables and do not want faith schools. They are more influenced by a school's local reputation, the language of instruction, and the distance from home (often the determining factor in rural Wales). This suggests that neither improved exam results nor a religious foundation will make undersubscribed schools more acceptable. Only evidence that the school includes children from families of similar backgrounds and aspirations is likely to reassure parents.

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