That choice in education is an illusion for many

(96 Posts)
Minifingers Sun 16-Feb-14 09:43:54

You often see posts here about the importance of choosing a school which is right for YOUR child. Have spent all morning looking at Dfe data on schools, and their admissions policies I've come to the conclusion that we can rank people according to how much choice they have in relation to this issue, and most of us don't actually have any or much choice.

The ranking goes like this:

Practicing members of Catholic or CofE churches who have clever/musical/sporty children and lots of money. (can choose state or private church school/secular private school/access grammar schools and selective state schools out of catchment/move into catchment of popular schools)

Non-religious people with money and clever/talented children. (can go private/move into catchment area of popular schools/access grammar schools and selective state schools out of catchment)

Church attenders with no money who have clever/talented children (church schools/private school via a bursary/scholarship/selective state schools out of catchment area)

Non-church attenders with clever/talented children (bursary/scholarship for private/selective state schools)

Non-church attenders with no money and children who are only average achievers. (non-selective secular schools that they live in the catchment area of, or unpopular schools that they are out of catchment for).

As a hierarchy of educational privilege (because it IS a privilege to choose your child's school) this is a bit shit isn't it?

I look at books like 'The Good School Guide', and the education boards here where parents debate the pros and cons of different high performing schools, and feel completely non-plussed by it. It's mostly irrelevant to me.

A school may be fantastic, and specialise in the things my children are interested in, but unless we're in its catchment area, forget it.

Nomama Sun 16-Feb-14 09:50:28

Erm... I'm not sure why that would piss you off.

The government provide schooling for children... they fund schools that provide for each local area. You don't live in that area you don't go to that school, you go to the one in your area, where there is space allocated for your child. Simple really.

As for the hierarchy, it is a mix of money and meritocracy... pay for it or be clever enough to be given it... it has always been like that, it isn't an imposed etic, it is just a reality. Those with money either pay for their own kids to get a good education or set up a fund for those who can't afford it.

How would you like it to work? And how would it be financed?

Minifingers Sun 16-Feb-14 09:57:45

"Erm... I'm not sure why that would piss you off."

Because there is lots of rhetoric about how important it is to choose the right school for your child, but the reality is many of us have little or no choice. I think that needs to be publically acknowledged. Choice is an illusion for most people.

The government provide schooling for children... they fund schools that provide for each local area.

"You don't live in that area you don't go to that school"

Unless you are a practicing member of a church, in which case you may get a place at a mostly government funded school miles and miles away from your home, displacing a local child whose parents are not church-goers.

", you go to the one in your area, where there is space allocated for your child. Simple really."

Yes - I know this. I was making a point about lack of choice. What point are you trying to make? That you have the choice of the local school or nothing?

"As for the hierarchy, it is a mix of money and meritocracy... pay for it or be clever enough to be given it... it has always been like that, it isn't an imposed etic, it is just a reality. Those with money either pay for their own kids to get a good education or set up a fund for those who can't afford it."

It's not a meritocracy. hmm Those children taking up selective places at state schools out of area are overwhelmingly likely to come from families with money to pay for tutoring, especially if they are going for music places at selective schools.

lljkk Sun 16-Feb-14 09:59:41

I agree that choice is a wrong word, expressing a preference is a better way to describe some of the choices people make. I have 2 DC at High schools out of our catchment, not difficult around here.

You can choose where you live most of the time and the ability to choose a school varies a lot with geography.
You could plan and hopefully succeed to choose private, or choose HE.

Minifingers, I agree about the realities of 'choice'.

Nomama, but you don't get allocated in your area until after the selection for being catholic etc is done and if there are still some remaining places. Not just catholic, but that's the most common example.

I would have all schools funded equally and everyone goes to the nearest one. If people say "but that's not such a good school' that just means we need to do something to make it a good school.

One thing that might help is if you encourage (or even require) headteachers and teachers to move around (within their local area) every few years.

winterlace Sun 16-Feb-14 10:06:58

We could afford to educate our DCs privately - just. With a lot of sacrifices. We never will though as neither of us feel it's particularly important. I think money - lots of money - opens up so much by way of choice that education is only a part of that.

Taz1212 Sun 16-Feb-14 10:07:19

I agree with you but I'm in Scotland so my little rant will be irrelevant for most of you. I can't stand the inconsistency in the curriculum in the state schools here. Our local school now only lets you take 5 courses in S4 - move to a catchment a few miles away and you can take 7. The range of Highers and Advanced Highers have been stripped down to the bare minimum because of the "economic demographics" of the area (quoted from a council consultation paper when they were considering the restructuring) which means that various uni courses are automatically put of reach for students. I can go on and on on this topic...

The divide in the curriculum creates an inequality between the state schools here but because you are stuck with your catchment school you don't have any choice unless you move or go private (our decision). You should be able to attend any state school and have the same academic options as your peers in other state schools. Performance will obviously still vary from school to school, but everyone should be given the opportunities.

Minifingers Sun 16-Feb-14 10:08:38

We cannot choose private (not enough money for fees but too much to get help from a bursary).

People in social housing or in negative equity or low cost housing can't generally move into the catchments of popular schools.

But yes - you are right we can express a preference.

I would prefer my ds to go to a secondary school with strong science, maths and music teaching, as these are his areas of strength. <hollow laugh> <not a chance in hell>

winterlace Sun 16-Feb-14 10:13:23

But minifingers, if he is good at those subjects -really good - he'll probably excel anyway. My school was terrible and I came out with A*s. DH didn't do as well but as he says himself to anybody who will listen it has made no difference to his life as he's not academic: never has been. He scraped a handful of Cs, a couple of Bs and did a vocational course at college.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 10:17:14

I thought looked after children and children with SEN had priority? That's hardly money based.

Nomama Sun 16-Feb-14 10:21:12

But if your personal favourite is a school that has been set up for 'Kid A' and your kid is not A then that is NOT the school that has an allocated place for your child.

Choice is indeed just rhetoric, politicians will use it to grab votes. But it is all pie in the sky. Stop biting on it and they will choose another bee to keep in their/your bonnet.

The reality for most is that the school that is nearest is the school their kids will go to. Your only choice may be to move.... Or, as has already been suggested, Home Ed. But that is not something I could even begin to understand.

But again, how would you like it to work? How would you finance it?

redskyatnight Sun 16-Feb-14 10:27:49

I agree about the aspect of actually "no choice". The Education threads are full of people agonising over precisely what order to put schools in. Meanwhile we live in an area where we are 99.9% likely to get our catchment school and have only 0.00001% chance of getting any other school within a vaguely sensible distance.

So actually our choice is go to catchment school or move (or go private if we find a spare 100 thousand under the bed).

Sunnymeg Sun 16-Feb-14 10:30:53

There is also the 'lottery' of whether your child is in a low birth year for your area or not. DS was the first child for 7 years to go from his primary to his secondary, due to our good fortune of having a low birth year intake in their catchment. If DS had been born 12 months later there would have been no chance. DS started secondary last September. I know parents of children who are starting this year who have had to make choices I would have hated to be faced with.

Minifingers Sun 16-Feb-14 10:43:15

"But minifingers, if he is good at those subjects -really good - he'll probably excel anyway"

Not sure I agree.

Music teaching in state schools really varies hugely. My child's current primary is a great school in many ways, but music teaching is dire. If he excels it'll be because we've kept stuff going outside. It will be a shame for him not to be able to follow through with his music at school.

winterlace Sun 16-Feb-14 10:46:01

Yes but in a sense you've answered your own question: you'll keep stuff going on for him outside school. So he will do well - in spite of, not because of, the school, I absolutely concede. But this is why my only aim when finding a school for DD is to find one where she'll be happy and make friends. Academically, if she's able, she'll be fine and of she isn't I'm not sure the school will help much!

vj32 Sun 16-Feb-14 10:52:09

We moved house to be in catchment of good schools in typical lower middle class fashion. Religion or talent makes no difference here - none of the schools are selective. Its all about postcode.

Yes the rich have more choices, as in all areas of life. And if you are educated yourself you have better insight into how the system works (all the info is online, you do need to be able to access it, read it, and analyse it) and you probably put more value on education. Some people just genuinely don't think school is important or think that what was 'good enough' for them is 'good enough' for their DCs. They don't want a choice.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 11:16:52

Surely having some at private is beneficial to the rest of the children. If all private schools closed, all those children would be in the state system too, no doubt fighting for the grammar, religious places etc. So in a way the choice of private helps widen the choices for the rest and gives more money to state rather then less.

winterlace Sun 16-Feb-14 11:17:57

Middle class parents are jewels in the state school crowns owl so no not really.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 11:29:10

Don't understand your point winter can you clarify?! Sorry!

flakjacket Sun 16-Feb-14 11:32:25

In theory Owlina yes, but in reality half of my DC's grammar school class came from the private sector thus saving their parents the school fees and depriving the state school pupils of a place.

Minifingers Sun 16-Feb-14 11:33:13

"Surely having some at private is beneficial to the rest of the children. If all private schools closed, all those children would be in the state system too, no doubt fighting for the grammar, religious places etc. So in a way the choice of private helps widen the choices for the rest and gives more money to state rather then less."

Not if we stopped state funded schools (ie church schools) from selecting. :-)

Yes - I'd love to force the wealthy to mix with us oiks at the school gate, and for little Harry and Coriander to be rubbing shoulders with the Kai's and the Shavonte's on local school playing fields. It would be a social revolution.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 11:34:04

OK I see what you mean now. So if there was no grammar they would have all gone private?

winterlace Sun 16-Feb-14 11:35:19

Sorry!

I am going to generalise massively here and apologise for that in advance but middle class parents keep standards high by complaining - if their child isn't being taught well or if they aren't being taught at all. This forces head teachers to act. That's one way standards are raised.

If you look in local papers about school events many involve some form of parental commitment: musical, sporting, linguistic and drama require a parent who is 100% behind their child and in some cases with money. Our local secondary had a ski trip and it's website was covered with grinning faces - not paid for by the school of course.

But if I take a typical m/c parent who is educated and values education - they support their child's revision, buying books, providing extra tuition, helping with homework. This raises results which in turn raises aspirations - the presence of well behaved and well motivated students is good for a schools morale, and the reverse is also true. M/c children are valuable to a school put simply, I suppose.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 11:41:35

Well mini the only way to achieve that would be for every child to go to a randomly selected school. Would certainly be a social revolution.

Would it improve children's chances? Would it create divisions inside schools? Would it create a more equal system? Would all children's needs be met? Who knows?

I don't believe there will ever be true equality of opportunity for all children with a selective system, but private sector is out of the equation for me, as it is a different issue to selecting a state place.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 11:42:46

Ofsted put far more pressure on than parents IMHO.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now