School choice can succeed - but not this way

3rd June 2011 at 01:00

The TES reported last week that one of the many proposed changes to the admissions arrangements for schools in England was a plan to give priority access at over-subscribed schools to the children of staff employed there ("Teachers' children will go to front of admissions queue", 27 May).

However, research shows that it tends not to be over-subscribed schools that find it most difficult to recruit staff. Popular schools tend to be just that - popular - with families and staff. And less popular schools are not over-subscribed.

The international evidence is that allowing popular schools to expand can lead to less social segregation between schools, because the new "winners" will be those unable to afford to live near popular schools.

The problem is how to protect children in any nearby declining school, and their one shot at early education. Academies were set up as a way of dealing with such schools in spirals of decline, but they were not then permitted to apply for specialist status.

So the proposal to give priority access to academies to families with the pupil premium seems bizarre. The initial problem was having an intake unbalanced by too many pupils from poor homes, not too few. It would make more sense to give poor pupils, rather than teachers' children, preferred access to popular schools.

In combination, these proposals will not help social segregation between schools in England. Yet, with a bit of care and attention to evidence, school choice could be made to work fairly and effectively.

Stephen Gorard, Professor of education research, Birmingham University.

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