Is social diversity at the top of a parent's agenda?

31st March 2006 at 01:00
The world of the rural school may seem a million miles away from busy, inner-city schools, but really we are just a smaller version. The vexed question of secondary education and "parental choice" is an anguish that my rural parents are going through as much as any in the big London suburbs.

My primary school is on the border of two local authorities; one with some selective grammar schools, the other with a firmly "comprehensive"

approach. My parents have a choice of around nine secondary schools - with the caveat that their "catchment" school is a small (and failing) comprehensive. Many have visited the school, and all agree that the head is doing an excellent job in trying to turn it around and that it needs the social diversity of children like theirs. But they are not prepared to "risk" their own children's education by choosing it. The five A* to C GCSE grades currently stand at around 21 per cent, compared with 35 to 95 per cent at the eight other schools of their choice.

So where does this leave them? Well, drive through the village from about 7.30am and you'll see crowds of children waiting for buses to take them to schools up to 25 miles away. Are they right? Well, with my professional hat on, I'm sure I should say that children should attend their local school, regardless of its clientele and position in the league tables. That then would make the local school truly comprehensive and presumably improve its results. With my parent hat on? That's a different matter. Did I happen to mention that my child goes to the grammar school?

I read about the education bill and its proposals on admissions to schools, and I wonder how it will work in practice. I guess that those parents who really care about the education of their sons and daughters will always manage to get them into the "best" schools.

Parents here start visiting secondary schools when their children are in Year 5. However, I was a little startled by a new parent I was showing around the other day - her son is three - quizzing me on whether we do rugby and coaching for the 11-plus, and what music we offer. Apparently, they are hoping for Oxford. I have a feeling that they might be better suited to the more rarefied atmosphere of the private school in our nearest town. Just one thing bothers me, though. What happens if the mite turns out to be a spray-can wielding vandal? No problem: he will fit in perfectly at the local catchment secondary school. Hurrah for the state system. A school for everyone!

Helena Bakewell

Helena Bakewell teaches in Nottinghamshire. She writes under a pseudonym

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