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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.

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

breatheslowly Mon 17-Feb-14 12:47:04

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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