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


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.

winterlace Sun 16-Feb-14 11:48:30

Ofsted appear every three years though smile

In any case the point is middle class children - or rather children with parents who hugely value education, who are guaranteed to achieve English and maths at C or above with three other subjects thrown in and offer extra curricular activities are of huge value to a school and enhance it greatly.

IdRatherPlayHereWithAllTheMadM Sun 16-Feb-14 11:50:02

I think your right.

Luckily in our area our house is surrounded by lots of grammer schools. I am hoping the DC are going to be bright enough to have a stab at them...

so much more choice for us...we are surrounded by failing comp. if there was no other choice or dcn not bright enough to try then yes will probably have t omove

IdRatherPlayHereWithAllTheMadM Sun 16-Feb-14 11:51:25

es - *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

but they do. wealthy dc still go to state schools!

winterlace Sun 16-Feb-14 11:53:59

Well, yes and no. I imagine once you surpass a particular income bracket the majority of parents would choose for their child to be educated privately - only exceptions would be those with strong socialist views. That said, many of us find our views leave us when it comes to our own children.

IdRatherPlayHereWithAllTheMadM Sun 16-Feb-14 11:58:28

I think the dire state of our schools has probably muddied the waters, i think lots of people who can afford a private education would rather get it free if schools were up to scracth.

its a bun fight out there because schools are failing!

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 12:01:53

What you say is valid winter. But Ofsted is a constant in schools' life, not just every three years (we wish!).

Another aspect of choice is where you live. In more urban areas you've got a lot more choice. Many people have only one choice as they live in rural areas. To go to a grammar from where we live would involve a long car journey, impossible for working parents. So that choice would be out for many.

Having said that, the local hs is Ofsted 'outstanding'. It's also an academy. Mr and DH don't want our child to go to an academy, but realistically we won't have that much choice. (Well we might, child still in womb at mo!)

DarlingGrace Sun 16-Feb-14 12:02:59

You are talking tommyrot OP. I live in a shitty area and its a grammar area. No money here.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 12:04:08

MadM schools are being failed by the government. Schools are not failing all on their own.

Taz1212 Sun 16-Feb-14 12:04:26

If our catchment school had been the same quality of the excellent state school that I attended we definitely wouldn't have gone private! I always think the whole "wealthy mixing with the oiks" is such a bizarre statement- with one child still at a state school for a couple more years and one at private it makes me laugh that there are clearly only 2 groups, the oiks and the wealthy- which one do I slot into? Am I a wealthy oil? grin

Taz1212 Sun 16-Feb-14 12:04:58

Wealthy oik even- stupid auto correct!

SpanishLady Sun 16-Feb-14 12:07:00

This is a very interesting thread for me. We have a 3 year old and are about to apply for a pre- school place for him at our local Catholic nursery/primary school. We have as a result begun to focus on school years generally not only for our eldest but younger 2 now they have arrived.

I'm a catholic and have been attending the church the school is affiliated to for over 20 years. I made some of my sacraments there, got married there and my kids were christened there too. I myself went to state funded catholic schools (which the church also contributes funds too) the whole of my education. The admissions criteria for this primary school is: special needs/ in care children, siblings of kids already at the school, catholic kids in the catchment area, catholic kids outside the catchment area, non-Catholics in catchment area.

Currently our 3 year old attends the nursery attached to a private school - even with the government grant we still pay just over £300 a month. I never thought I'd be too bothered about my kids needing to go private - as long as we were in a good area for state schools but I'm beginning to feel that the gap between private and state can be quite wide even at primary level. In an ideal world I would keep him at his private school but his going full time is just beyond our financial grasp (esp now we have 2 more kids)

I am also looking ahead to high school and the local state schools aren't great so we have decided to move. Where we are looking to go to has grammar school options but I've discovered that effectively these are selective and generally the kids they choose are from families who otherwise would send them private.

I'm actually in conflict with myself as am realising having lofty socialist ideals about educational equality for all goes out the window when it comes to your kids - I don't think it's fair these amazing grammar schools are full of the kids of wealthy families but are govt funded esp when the local comp is nowhere as good (from resources perspective) but given the chance I will want my kids to go to the grammar school.

I'm not 100% comfortable with this realisation.

winterlace Sun 16-Feb-14 12:09:07

Owl - I didn't mean to imply ofsted was a casual event every three years! Sorry!

What I mean is m/c parents are another way standards are raised.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 12:11:57

Spanish I think you are being very honest, every parent had to make the decision that is right for their child even if that goes against your social ideology.

Mintyy Sun 16-Feb-14 12:12:26

Agree. I have a choice of two secondary schools for each of my dc (all single sex). It is a complete waste of effort filling in the other 4 places on the application form. For state primary school, the people who live in my postcode have an absolute maximum of 3 choices (if they live in a particular tiny area), most have the choice of 1, many are in a complete black hole and don't get any.

Minifingers Sun 16-Feb-14 12:15:03

Most state schools are not failing. And areas with good state schools have more, not fewer private schools.

SpanishLady Sun 16-Feb-14 12:16:27

True owl - I know it's unfair but even knowing that, we are prepared to move and pay for extra tuition and out of school activities to give our kids the best shot at the grammar schools or even private (if they can get a bursary) just have to smother that voice in my head calling me a hypocrite

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 12:16:47

I agree with you winter. Educating a child is a partnership between school and parents. Both parties should be working in the interest of the child. So your eg of skiing trip, yes parents provide the cash, but teachers give up the time, organise it, risk assess it, manage the behaviour etc so children can have this fab experience due to both parties working together.

The more support from both sides, the better the outcome for children.

So challenge for schools, how do we involve parents more in their child's education?

In a rural area like this many parents have Hobson's choice of schools.

You go to the school the council runs the bus to!

Yes some families run two cars and have SAHM, part time working parents who do school runs to alternative schools and parents who choose not to put 5y on long poorly supervised bus routes, but this is not an option for the poorest parents.

By secondary the vast majority of parents want/need to be free of the school run and council bus routes dictate choice almost completely.

For a few lucky people there are buses contract and public buses to non catchment and grammar schools, but they are £900 a year and very dependent on where you live.

tiredbutstillsmiling Sun 16-Feb-14 12:21:35

I agree and I'm a teacher!

We're currently worrying about this. We want DD to go to a Catholic school but out nearest is in special measures and I know I'm being a snob, but it's in the middle of an estate where the majority of folk aren't Catholic (high immigrants population), has high unemployment etc. we put our house on the market once DD was born - she's nearly 3 and we still haven't sold (another thread entirely!).

Anyway we have registered with an outstanding Catholic school but we don't fall in the parish, just outside the border. We go to the church every week and hopefully the priest will give us backing. We were told at registration that last year only 15 Catholics applied in that year - obviously all got a place. This Sept out of a class of 30 there are 27 Catholics. DD was born in 2011 - a massive baby boom in out area. It'll be just our luck more than 30 Catholics apply and we'll be buggered as we're not in the parish.

Unfortunately although I live in an affluent area, the majority of patents can afford private schooling. This means the local schools are filled with kids from poorer area being bused in to fill the places. I grew up in poverty and the primary school I went to was massively deprived. I want better for DD.

Minifingers Sun 16-Feb-14 12:25:24

"every parent had to make the decision that is right for their child even if that goes against your social ideology."

Actually even in areas where there are well performing state schools, when parents KNOW that with their support their child could do very well in a state school, they will STILL put them in private in they can, because they don't just want their child to do well, they want them to do BETTER than other, similar kids, and shelling out cash is the way to guarantee your child doesn't have to compete on an even playing field. In other words, it's giving your children a leg up that they haven't earned.

The intake at my dd's school is pretty rough - only 33% of children are high achievers at the beginning. They also have many more children on free school meals, and children with special needs than the national average. But their average GCSE grade for high achievers is a B+, and every year they get children into Russell Group uni's. It's also got a vibrant arts culture and is a happy school. But that's not enough for the local middle-class parents. The private girl's school down the road is heaving and heavily over subscribed.

Honestly I think people are hypocrites. I hope that if I had a choice of a decent state school, and the will to help my own child I'd put my beliefs in the importance of community ahead of my urge to give my child a leg up over the shoulders of their peers by paying for them to go private.

Minifingers Sun 16-Feb-14 12:27:45

"I grew up in poverty and the primary school I went to was massively deprived. I want better for DD"

And yet you grew up to be a teacher.

What is the 'better' you want for your dd? Not to be educated alongside poor children?

How very Christ-like of you. hmm

SpanishLady Sun 16-Feb-14 12:29:10

The highest rating primary school in my area has buckets of money and resources thrown at it but that's because this is an affluent area and it's in the only deprived part ( in middle of small council estate) a teacher there told me the problem is they can't get the middle class parents to send their kids as they won't mix their kids with the council estate lot and the kids of recent immigrants - so great resources but still lots of social issues.

All abit depressing and yep I won't send my kid either....

ilovesooty Sun 16-Feb-14 12:34:36

What winterlace says sounds very familiar. At the last school I taught in such parents were identified on a secret list as "signposted" parents and were specifically monitored and their children given priority and preferential treatment.

tiredbutstillsmiling Sun 16-Feb-14 12:37:44

minifingers that's my choice. I don't know how I succeeded in a primary school where there were 20 different languages. I remember being withdrawn in reception to sit and read a book on my own as I could read and the rest of the class couldn't. How was that teaching me or pushing me to achieve? I'm sorry but I don't want that environment for DD.

Plus if you'd bothered to read my post the local Catholic school hasn't got many Catholics because of the high number of immigrants. They don't even have Mass and don't prepare pupils for Communion. We want religion to be part of DD's education. I think THAT is VERY Christian of me!

tethersend Sun 16-Feb-14 12:40:28

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

No, not money based- but schools can, and frequently do, decline places to students with SEN on the grounds that they 'cannot meet their needs'; I have even had the SENCo of a very well-regarded west London school tell me that they will accept no more than three statemented students per year hmm

In addition to this, religious schools are only obliged to put looked after children of the faith above non-looked after children of the faith. In practice, this can mean that a looked after child who was not baptised within a certain timescale or has not regularly attended a particular church (difficult when you've been moved from placement to placement), will rank as low as 13th down the priority list, effectively denying them a place.

Of course, with most community schools and academies, this is not a problem.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 12:46:01

I put my social ideologies first, my job is in an increasingly poor town, with a growing % of FSM.

But I would still seek best possible chances for my child.

We can strive to an ideology, and work actively towards a situation where all children have equal chances, but still accept that until that is a reality, we will chose what is right for our own children.

Lambsie Sun 16-Feb-14 14:29:03

If you have a child with severe sen, you can have no choice of school. The nearest school that could meet my childs needs is 2 hours drive away.

Weegiemum Sun 16-Feb-14 14:38:28

Private seems to be regarded as best, but that's not always the case. My dc go to a state school that provides bilingual education. In Glasgow, you couldn't buy that no matter how much money you had.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 14:59:51

I don't think private is necessarily best, but small class sizes must help.

Minifingers Sun 16-Feb-14 15:54:07

"I don't know how I succeeded in a primary school where there were 20 different languages."

There are vastly more than 20 different languages spoken at my dc's school, where 80% of the children are non-white, and a large part of the rest are Eastern European. The school is the highest rated in the borough for SATS at level 4 and above. Immigrants don't spoil the education of English children.

"Plus if you'd bothered to read my post the local Catholic school hasn't got many Catholics because of the high number of immigrants."

Funny, our catholic schools take huge numbers of immigrants in. Lots of African and Eastern European Catholics you know.

" They don't even have Mass and don't prepare pupils for Communion. We want religion to be part of DD's education. I think THAT is VERY Christian of me!"

Yes - some people like to get their children indoctrinated as thoroughly as possible, preferably before they develop the ability to understand what the real world is like.

"We can strive to an ideology, and work actively towards a situation where all children have equal chances, but still accept that until that is a reality, we will chose what is right for our own children."

And in doing so, in choosing to remove your child from an educational community which is representative of normal wider society, you are making sure that all children will never have equal chances. In making those choices you are becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Hard working children of caring, involved parents do well in the state sector. Shame doing well is not enough for some parents

spindoctorofaethelred Sun 16-Feb-14 16:04:25


I am getting beyond sick of people posting, "well you chose to send your child to that school" whenever some mumsnetter posts about a school issue.

Most people can't think, "hmm, don't like the look of the uniform policy/GCSE options at local secondary-with-places: I'd better find somewhere else". Real life is a bit more difficult than using Google/The Good School Guide to locate a more suitable school with places and then actually just moving there with a click of one's fingers.

OwlinaTree Sun 16-Feb-14 17:22:40

Who says anything about removing your child from a wider community?

I'm leaving this now because quite frankly you are annoying me a bit. Rather than engaging in debate politely you seem to just be being rude to everybody.

I've feel I and others on here have brought up some valid and relevant points, regarding location, parental involvement, religious choice etc but you obviously just have your own agenda.

manicinsomniac Sun 16-Feb-14 23:46:44


I work in a private prep and, when I first started, was astounded at the amount of choice our children have when they leave at 13.

Each parent/guardian of a Y8 child has an individual meeting with our headmaster where they look through all the 'candidate' senior schools and discuss how well they 'fit' their child academically, socially, culturally, musically, sports-wise and every other which way you can think of. Schools are deemed too big, too small, too rural, too urban, too academic, too pressurised, too relaxed, too ruby obsessed, not musical enough, not dramatic enough, too far away, too close, not nurturing enough, experienced in dyslexia/dyspraxia/ASD, provides X obscure hobby etc etc etc. By the end of the process their final exams are almost a formality - a suitable school that they will pass into has been hand selected for each child.

When I left Junior school I went to the same secondary school as everybody else in my class. One size fits all. There was no choice. It seems that is still the case for the majority of people.

I can't decide whether the level of choice our children have is a wonderful thing or whether they are being needlessly pandered to and would actually learn to fit a school like everybody else does rather than have a school selected to fit them.

ComposHat Mon 17-Feb-14 00:03:38

Surely the authentic Catholic school experience includes:

1) crippling guilt and self doubt,
2) Being brainwashed with fairy tales and downright untruths about the world around you.
3) Being told sex is dirty and shameful

Being constantly on the lookout for 'overly friendly' priests.

Why any sane parent would want that for their child is beyond me.

YANBU. We live in a village. The choices are pretty much the Catholic school in the next town (if you are Catholic) or the village school. The nearest independent schools are further than I think an infant school aged child should commute and we aren't Catholic, so DD will go to the village school. There were villages we couldn't really buy a house in as the village schools were C of E (though would take any village children in preference to out of parish children) and we want the minimum religious content for DD.

The notion of 'choice' is at the least one that reflects urban areas, and is probably a London centric idea. However it seems possible to live in London in the middle of an area of religious schools and have to be shipped half way across the city because your local school won't take you due to your parents either not having the 'right' beliefs or not being able to demonstrate commitment to those beliefs.

'Choice' is a crap description of the system. Parents can show a preference, if they are in an area with many schools and children of parents with no faith or the wrong faith are discriminated against.

SingMoreWhenYoureWinning Mon 17-Feb-14 00:14:18

*I grew up in poverty and the primary school I went to was massively deprived. I want better for DD"
And yet you grew up to be a teacher.
What is the 'better' you want for your dd? Not to be educated alongside poor children?
How very Christ-like of you.*

I think that is a very unfair perception.

I also grew up in poverty and went to schools in deprived areas which, to be frank, were shit schools. I did outstandingly well at GCSE Level (11 A/A* grades) and was the top performer that year by a mile. I have gone on to have a decent career.
HOWEVER...I do not want my children to have the same experience of school. I don't want the example of the 'exception' to be those children that go on to college and the norm being those that do nothing at 16. I don't want them to feel embarrassed about doing well as the majority around you are not.
I don't want them to experience the creeping-death feeling when your teacher looks at you like you're an alien because you ask for an extra reading book as the class are reading something 5 years below your reading level.

I was lucky in that I was very academic and found nothing a struggle. My dc may not be so academic. I don't want my children to attend a 'deprived' school because of the ethos and expectations that brings. So fucking shoot me.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Mon 17-Feb-14 00:15:35

manic If your HM is only having those conversations in Yr 8 then I'm sorry to say your pupils have already been selected out of the most rarified schools, for which pre-testing happens in yr 6. So those pupils' parents are having the conversation in Yr 5.

manicinsomniac Mon 17-Feb-14 00:25:35

doesn't seem to be the case zero. Loads of parents have meetings earlier, it's true, but, if the school turns out not to be the fit, then decisions are changed. Many of our parents have their children registered with 3 or more different schools by age 8 or so. They will only make a firm decision much later.

I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'rarified' schools - we're not really an Eton and Harrow type of school, we're totally non selective and over half of our intake have SEN or AN. We get 6-8 academic scholars in a year group and yes, I'm sure they have paid their deposits at top school/s early.

AgaPanthers Mon 17-Feb-14 00:27:24

OP is entirely correct, the thing is that this arrangement suits many people just fine, in a selfish way.

Competition for naice schools pits neighbour against neighbour in a game of oneupmanship that can make people so pleased that they have won, that they forget about anything else.

Example: we send our kids private, it's very nice, they are ahead of where kids in state schools would be, blah blah blah, jolly smug, just let's overlook the £200k/child bill.

We meet new neighbour, 'oh hello, do you send your kids to [naice state primary school under a mile away]'. New neighbour, looking a bit coy: 'no they go to [religious primary school several miles away].'

I'm slightly confused at the expression on her face, why does she look smug-cum-embarrassed?

Only much later do I realise that it feeds into [high achieving religious secondary school] as of right, so basically they have got into the best state senior school by praying in the approved fashion before their children were 5, so they were actually smugger than we were.

Of course the parents engaging in these various games/paying through the nose are probably the ones least in need of the top schools, they are the ones who care the most, so politically the status quo is unlikely to be challenged, because helping those kids in need of help, at the expense of the children of pushier parents, is far less politically expedient than continuing to endorse a system where the middle classes, to a large degree, can get what they want, by playing various games.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Mon 17-Feb-14 00:51:08

manic Given the cross section of pupils that you have I'm quite surprised that you're ambivalent about the breadth of choice available to their parents. Surely the ideal would be for every child to be directed into the best school for them? Definitely not "pandering"......

And of course many of the children who arrive at their schools without any choice on the part of their parents might make better use of your facilities and teaching. But that isn't an argument against the benefit if your school's existence.

manicinsomniac Mon 17-Feb-14 01:01:26

I know what you mean zero and you're probably right. I guess I just question its necessity because it's so alien to me. A kind of 'I managed with a choice of 1, everyone I knew managed with a choice of 1, 93% of today's children manage with a choice of 1-2 so is it really necessary to make such a fuss. Having such a wealth of choice seems somehow indulgent when most children don't get any. But yes, everyone having the choice would be a better solution than taking the choice away from the privileged few.

dayshiftdoris Mon 17-Feb-14 01:13:08

SEN children have priority?

They rarely even have a choice.

Specialism in mainstream and special schools have set criteria on the profile of children they take...

There are NO schools in my whole county that has a profile that my child fits into (high functioning ASD, struggles socially & emotionally, challenging behaviours and average to above average academic levels)

I have looked at 9 schools, spoke to 15 and found one which is a good compromise... Yes compromise... At best

Yet there I was, at mainstream school open evening and witnessed the mumble when the school mentioned statemented children and I was even more blessed that the man in front of me said 'Yeah it's alright for THEM! THEY get what they want' angry
Ironically 20mins after witnessing that I was shown out of the school by the SENCO whilst she reiterated strongly that this was not the school for my son

I'd just like him to have opportunity...

AgaPanthers Mon 17-Feb-14 01:48:42

I can't believe anyone seriously genuinely believes SEN and looked-after children have priority.

The education system is designed in the interests of those who make the most noise, not those who need the most help.

CouthyMow Mon 17-Feb-14 02:22:14

What the FUCK have they done to Scottish education?! Having been educated at GCSE level / SG level in both England and Scotland, the Scottish system was far superior. Now it sounds like it's worse than England?!

CouthyMow Mon 17-Feb-14 02:32:26

Vj32 - are you honestly saying that because someone can't afford the internet, that they don't care about their DC's education? I can't even formulate a sensible reply to explain how wrong you are.

And to those who say that they will keep up music lessons etc outside of school because they choose not to pay for Private education, that's all well and food, but what of those who ARE good at music, but DON'T have the money for lessons outside school?

And those who think that a clever child is going to end up in a Grammar school, or succeed anyway in a state school. That's not necessarily true. My DS1 missed out (JUST) on a place at the superselective GS because he had the startings of appendicitis on the test day (already the alternate test day due to the systemic strep infection that caused his appendicitis...). His State school is unable to stretch him anywhere near far enough in Y7.

Thankfully right now, I am able to stretch him, and I'm hoping to god that he gets a place soon. (He's first on the list for the super selective GS).

I'm lucky in that right now, my maths ability is around the same as my 11yo DS1's. I'm working on A* grade GCSE level work...he's currently doing the same, with me teaching him the basic principles of each chapter. Next year, his abilities will outstrip my own, and I can't afford a tutor. He will only be in Y8.

And that's the state school with the best academic results in our town. After the GS, at least. It's no longer my catchment school either, though was lucky in as much as the HA moved me after allocations day...

CouthyMow Mon 17-Feb-14 02:39:33

And yes, well over half the super selective GS pupils WOULD have gone private had they not gained entry to the GS. And more than usual in the current Y7. All of which is why my DS1, with an IQ in the top 1% of the population, is in a state school that isn't able to give him appropriate work, rather than in the GS. He had just 6 tutoring sessions, paid for by a kindly benefactor...yet is first on the list. If you took all the GS pupils OUT of the school that had had years of tutoring, would my DS1 have a place? Of fucking course. He was disadvantaged by the fact that I couldn't afford ££ per hour from bloody Y3/4 to pay for tutoring.

6 hours is vastly different to 4 years of two sessions every week.

The score he got, despite illness, was based on raw natural ability. Not tutored within an inch of his life. The tutoring was basically allowing him to see what an 11+ test flipping looked like.

Money talks. If you haven't got it, and your local school is shit, then it doesn't matter HOW clever you are, you're screwed.

CouthyMow Mon 17-Feb-14 02:49:15

Winterlace. I'm afraid you are talking out of your arse. Being MC doesn't make your child guaranteed to get 'C's at GCSE any more than being lower class makes your child guaranteed to get U's.

Of all the people I know putting in complaints that their DC's weren't taught properly at school, it is the poorer ones who were pushed into doing so - because they had ended up at less desirable schools as they cannot afford to play the system!

My DC's are on FSM's, one is a D-U grade student, one is heading for a clutch of A*'s. The next looks likely now to be a A-C student.

And skiing trips are bollocks. How does a school skiing trip show the quality of the TEACHING? It shows the world the families that can afford to ski, that's all. I'd rather the teachers weren't taking a select few pupils on a Jolly during term time when they could be actually teaching my children instead of my DC's being left with 3 different substitute teachers for that week. And the same for the annual Med trip. All things like that do is disadvantage the pupils left behind.

CouthyMow Mon 17-Feb-14 02:53:19

Idrather - they go to CERTAIN state schools. The 'old' state school my DC's attended was a predominantly white, MC school, with just 2% of FSM's, and less than 1% EAL. THAT is where you will find the MC parents.

I'd like to see them have to send their DC's to the schools on the 'bad' estate, where 63% are on FSM's and 27% are EAL. THEN let's see who gets the better education.

Why can't school allocations be done in a fairer way than they currently are, that doesn't allow any way for money to cheat the system by buying a house close to the 'good' schools, or over tutoring for GS's?

CouthyMow Mon 17-Feb-14 03:03:37

Ilovesooty - THAT doesn't surprise me, given the immense amount of nepotism in the last state Primary school my DC's attended.

I'm glad that the one I've moved to has a very mixed intake, despite being in a deprived area, the school sets high targets for ALL DC's, has a higher than average amount of pupils who have FSM's, EAL and SEN in their background, yet consistently is spoken of as being an excellent school. And I've found it masses better than the old one.

It's a shame the catchment Secondary is dire. I will avoid that by dint of a sibling link to the one DS1 currently attends. Unless he gains a place at the GS before October. Hobson's choice there...

Crap Secondary for DS2 if DS1 is offered the GS before October, State school rather than GS if I chose to keep DS1 there to gain sibling link for DS2...

I don't know whether to hope that DS1 gets offered a place at the GS as soon as possible, or if I can cross my fingers that DS1 gets offered a place there the day after offers day for Ds2...

CouthyMow Mon 17-Feb-14 03:15:21

Choice and SEN do NOT go hand in hand. Neither do choice and LAC. Despite what the admission criteria of schools would have you believe. Academies are now refusing to take DC's who are SA and SA+ as well as Statemented DC's because they have to fund the first £6000 of help those DC's need from the school's budget BEFORE going to the LA for additional funds.

It would not be helpful to a school's budget to have too many DC's in any given school year that require the full £6000 funding, would it? Especially not if they are trying to attract MC parents with this flashy thing and that flashy thing...

I was lucky with my DD, got her IEP's very well written, and her funding tied down until the end of Y11, as she was in Y10 by the time the school became an Academy. In Y7, there is not ONE DC with a statement, and DD says the youngest DC's she sees in the Learning Support Zone are in Y8...which says to me that there can't be too many on SA / SA+ either, as DD is in the LSZ for a fair percentage of her lessons.

Choice and SEN in the same sentence?

<<Hollow laugh>>

fideline Mon 17-Feb-14 04:35:38

"There are NO schools in my whole county that has a profile that my child fits into (high functioning ASD, struggles socially & emotionally, challenging behaviours and average to above average academic levels)"

I found the same.

Eldest DC has a similar profile, minus challenging behaviours but plus huge dyspraxia.

Had to cause a terrible fuss for years to eventually get his most basic needs met. School ignored NHS assessments for years and I had to self-represent in all legal proceedings that eventually made them fulfil their statutory duties. Only school which could do this was 30 miles away. He now gets a funded taxi every day, but I am appalled that there's no state provision in our large city and he has to commute for 15 hrs plus in school time.

But people have strange idea that a SEN diagnosis is a winning lottery ticket in school admissions.

manicinsomniac Mon 17-Feb-14 04:44:37

That's because, according to many schools' own admission policies, it should be!

(only those with statements though, I think).

Sad to hear that these policies don't appear to be followed.

CheerfulYank Mon 17-Feb-14 05:09:12

Sometimes I wish I had a choice for DS, but I don't. We live in small town America and there is just one school.

We thought about sending him to one of the closer Catholic schools (y'know, for that early indoctrination Compos was talking about grin) but as America does not fund faith schools it'd be really $$$, and doesn't have uniforms. His school now doesn't either, but if I'm going to pay I want them! smile

So, no choice. And on one hand it's irritating but on the whole good, I think- everyone's kids go there, so everyone strives to make it decent.

cory Mon 17-Feb-14 08:34:41

Further to the new rules about academies and statements there is also the fact that there is no scheme for giving statements for children with physical disabilities. And though some LEA's put disability on their list of priorities, others don't- so they can blithely assign the child in a wheelchair to a school with multiple stairs and no lift and it's the parents who have to go to court and fight on the grounds of discrimination.

fideline Mon 17-Feb-14 09:47:02

I think Cory that there is a general trend for LAs to act unreasonably, or even illegally, in cases concerning disability or SEN and wait to see if parents take legal action to challenge their 'decisions'.

I imagine this approach saves them a lot of money, as many parents don't have the confidence, insight, money or sheer determination to advocate or litigate on behalf of their DC. It is a cynical ploy for straitened times.

If you are a child in the UK with additional needs these days, then you need bolshy/educated/middle class parents. God help the others.

fideline Mon 17-Feb-14 09:47:48

* academies AND LAs

CouthyMow Mon 17-Feb-14 10:14:58

Even having bolshy parents that know what their DC needs isn't always enough - my issue with schooling is that I'm fighting on so many 'fronts' as it is, to get my DC's appropriate healthcare for starters, that it's impossible to fight for an appropriate education for ALL of my DC's at once.

My DD should have a statement, but is never going to get one. My DS2 is physically disabled, but gets no help whatsoever, right now I'm fighting for him to get the laptop that his rheumatology Physio says is essential to prevent further damage to his joints. I also need to find him a suitable Secondary school. At the same time, for my DS3, I'm about to apply for a Statement for in readiness for Reception - he gets FT 1-2-1 at preschool under inclusion funding, but that will only follow him to school if he has a statement. Without FT 1-2-1, he will be unable to access school at all. So continuing the fight for a statement for DD, in Y11, has had to fall by the wayside as there is only so much of 'me' to go around.

This is despite the fact that the school are currently funding far more than the 15 hours that is meant to be the maximum on SA+ - she's getting around 20 hours a week should have a statement!

fideline Mon 17-Feb-14 11:05:02

I wish I found any of that surprising Couthy. I don't.

Have IPSEA been much help?

I really do feel for you. Remember that you are doing all you humanly can do.

grumpyoldbat Mon 17-Feb-14 11:07:33

That's how life works. Only the really rich and powerful get TRUE choice. The rest of us get what we're allowed.

OddBoots Mon 17-Feb-14 11:36:05

OP, is 33% high achievers really that low? My ds's school must be worse than I thought at 16%. Eep.

AgaPanthers Mon 17-Feb-14 11:48:27

33% high achievers is no worse than average I believe.

Can't find the stats though.

DorisAllTheDay Mon 17-Feb-14 11:52:57

YANBU. The whole choice in education thing is deeply flawed. The one 'choice' I wanted when my kids were coming up to secondary school age was for them to go to a local school and for that school to be a good one. That 'choice' didn't exist for me - the most local school was a vastly over-subscribed CofE one and I wasn't willing to go through the motions of prayer for the requisite number of years. Next most local school was all-boys, so not much use for my dds. We were then into schools some distance away - two schools which would both involve a complicated public transport journey. One of them did very badly in league tables so parents with 'choice' (the ones described in the OP) didn't choose it. The other was vastly over-subscribed as it was in an extremely well-heeled part of town - no hope of my kids going there as we weren't anywhere near the catchment. So we went with the school at the bottom of the league tables, and guess what? My dds did absolutely fine there. I would have wanted a nearer school, though, had I been able to 'choose'.

Don't most people want exactly what I wanted, a good local school for their children? I don't see how the rhetoric of 'choice' will help us get to that, when it relies on some schools being (or being perceived to be) better than others.

JassyRadlett Mon 17-Feb-14 12:01:04

The idea that 'most children go to their local school' is laughable.

The two schools nearest me are both state-funded CofE schools. Their intake is filled up with the children of churchgoers (and later, their siblings who aren't caught by the cap on the number of children of churchgoers) who live miles further from the school than we do. This year, a friend who lives nearby was offered a reception place for her child at a school miles away, despite there being many schools closer, because she wasn't willing to fake faith to get into her local school and the next nearest schools had tiny catchments.

Secondary is even worse as our local secondary profile is skewed by the presence of a grammar that is completely geographically unrestrictive on admissions.

It's incredibly depressing to read of all the problems with schools trying to dodge their responsiblity to kids with SEN as part of their commitment to taking the easiest path possible.

IdRatherPlayHereWithAllTheMadM Mon 17-Feb-14 12:34:41


I remember being withdrawn in reception to sit and read a book on my own as I could read and the rest of the class couldn't. How was that teaching me or pushing me to achieve? I'm sorry but I don't want that environment for DD.

My school ( primary ) was in very affluent area...very affluent and yet I came out with no education at all confused it has set me back for life, in many respects in spite of my degree as I do not have the basics of grammar and so on. There is no way on this earth I am exposing my DC to that! Most of our local primaries are good but I go to far edge of our boundary to get my DD to the best one all round ( morals as well). Most other mums/ neighbours, colleagues, friends just want a shorter journey and have more emphasis on their DC keeping in same schools as their friends.


Like you I am very worried about how far my own abilities will stretch in helping, I am determined to help as much as I can but my own Maths is struggling now, and she is only in year 1 blush and my grammer is non existent, I could just about tell you what a noun is. I do have other strengths but its starting to hit me that its the basics of English and Maths at this stage that is key.

As for the government failing schools each government has been failing them for so long, you cant blame conservatives after the long winter of labour, party of the people miserably failing everyone the poorest most. sad

It is really disappointing to hear that children with SEN don't have a choice and sadly unsurprising, but still disappointing to hear that they don't get the support that they deserve and are entitled to.

In the debate about whether choice exists and, if it does, who should get priority of choice, it seems to me that priority to those with SEN and LAC should be a given.

cory Mon 17-Feb-14 13:40:30

It's also about how you define SEN. In my LEA physical disability is not defined as a SEN because it doesn't count as a learning need. So if you are bright and have no behavioural difficulties but just can't physically make it to the classroom the only recourse is for your parents to take the LEA to court on grounds of disability discrimination. Which of course takes many months. During which time nobody is responsible for ensuring you get an education- though of course if you refuse to go to school under those circumstances your parents can be fined or sent to prison.

Everysilverlining Mon 17-Feb-14 14:06:12

Cory I am another one with a DS with a physical disability. The law will allow you to get a statement even if the issue is physical as long as your phrase everything as access to education. I have just got full time 1-1 for DS on that basis and the law was with me. i am not saying that it is easy, nor that it shouldn't be a lot easier but disability dsicrimination is not the only nor in my view the best way. Of course that doesn't thenhelp with the buildings and that is a crying shame. It was so much better when the shcools which catered for the physically disabled still existed before they were closed in the name of inclusion.

But getting back to the case in point I have no choice for DS as I live in a city where the buildigns are listed and generally schools won't accomodate wheelchairs etc. And that is both public and private schools. I also have a DS who because of his disability cannot medically cope with large groups as he does get knocked over and injured.

Having money and religion doesn't help with that. I could afford any private school in county, but if they have no place which he can get into they have no place. I would still rather have a non disabeld DS who could go to a school even if it was miles away and a sink school. So yes choice is an illusion, but it goes muich much further than most people think about.

CouthyMow Mon 17-Feb-14 14:11:29

I agree, Cory. I'm lucky that though DS2's school is a two-level school, they have a lift that both DS2 and me are able to use. They have a number of DC's in wheelchairs there, who are able to access the upstairs without an issue. The closest, Catchment Secondary has no lifts, the one I'm looking at (DS1's current Secondary) DOES have lifts...

I get entry via sibling link. The DC's that are in a Primary with lift facilities but live where I am living now get NO priority for that school, despite it being the only reachable, accessible Secondary school...

(I count my lucky stars tbh, and am helping guide a couple of Y6 parents of DC's in wheelchairs through the process right now...)

MrsAMerrick Mon 17-Feb-14 14:21:39

As others have said, in rural areas there is really no choice about schools, especially secondary, as there is probably only one for miles around. We live in a rural area, there is a secondary school 5 miles away, the next nearest one is 10 miles away BUT no buses to that one, whereas the LA provides a bus to the catchment school. So no choice. We are lucky in that our local catchment school is rated "oustanding" (and deservedly so in my opinion) but even if it wasn't, that's where our dc would go because there's no choice.

The illusion of choice is really restricted to urban areas.

JassyRadlett Mon 17-Feb-14 14:51:10

MrsA, I don't know about that, most urban parents I know see it as a desperate struggle to get kids in to any school at all despite being surrounded by the bloody things!

Perhaps there is a periurban utopia where people believe they have (or truly do have) a choice of schools.

SleepPleaseSleep Mon 17-Feb-14 16:16:39

Oh yes, it is very obvious. Choice politics is all about choice for those who have the opportunity (usually the rich) while the poor get the dregs.

Our problem is that we don't own a car, for financial but mostly environmental reasons. So we can't choose to go anywhere distant, we're very tied. We also can't afford to buy our own house, let alone in the posh areas with good schools... Etc etc

So we have to take what we can get.

I want to see proper decent local servicesbrought back for all, not this mess where some are obviously better funded than others and so meet all the rubbish tick boxes and so get yet more funding.... Unfortunately politically no one supports us underclasses at the moment.

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