Right to choose is declining

21st August 2009 at 01:00

Last year 2,500 parents were disappointed when they didn't get the first choice of primary school for their child. But what evidence do these parents have that one school is better than the local one? Inspectors' reports? An afternoon visit? Nursery gate gossip? In my opinion, parents could be saved a lot of angst if this was one choice taken away from the consumer.

Surely at heart, most primary schools are pretty similar. It's not like the most desirable schools get first pick of the teachers and the best technology. A good headteacher may make a difference, but there is no guarantee that individuals will stay at the school for the duration of the child's education.

It's understandable that HMIE reports on schools carry a lot of weight with parents trying to select an establishment, but even this should be approached with caution. As anyone who has worked in a school during an inspection knows, the process generally involves a partial cover-up conducted by the school, followed by a report where many fail to recognise the school.

It seems some parents don't trust their own judgment based on being involved with a school for years, preferring the views of a team who spend a few days rushing around the establishment.

Some white parents who have put in placing requests because the local school is almost entirely populated by Asian kids may feel justified in exercising their right to choose, as attending a primary school where the language of the playground is not your own must be daunting to the average five-year-old. However, without the placing request system, the schools would have a natural racial balance and be less of a ghetto.

Recent figures show fewer parents than ever are exercising their right to choose. That the system is falling in popularity is perhaps the best argument quietly to condemn the process to history, an unhappy reminder of the politicisation of education.

Gordon Cairns, Haggs Road, Glasgow.

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