One of the principles introduced under the 1988 Education Act by the then Conservative Government was the notion of parental choice in selecting a school for their child. The idea behind this was that the market would drive up standards in education, good schools would be the popular schools while bad schools would be forced to improve or squeezed out of the market altogether as parents sent their children elsewhere. League tables became important as parents could digest these and make informed decisions about which was the best school for their child. This all sounds well and good….no-one would want to send their child to a failing school, therefore pupils would go to the better schools and standards would be driven up as bad schools improved in order to compete and retain pupils.
In reality, it is quite different. Sociological research has examined the strategies and resources that middle class parents employ in order to get their child into the school of their choice. For example writers including Reay, Lucey, Bowe, Ball and Gerwitz have all identified a range of strategies that middle class parents use.
More recently, as reported in The Guardian, Simon Burgess, Ellen Greaves, Anna Vignoles and Deborah Wilson have produced a report through Bristol University’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation which finds that social class segregation at primary school is being fuelled by the policy of parental choice. One of the key factors for poorer parents was the proximity of the primary school. In other words they are likely to choose a school for their child because it is close. Middle class parents, of course have more resources (i.e a car) to ensure that their child is able to attend a school at a distance from home.
The solution that the authors suggest is a lottery. At secondary school level this has already been tried, in Brighton as reported by the BBC provoking angry responses from some parents. The lottery meant, of course that parents could not employ strategies to get their child into the school of their choice, instead the process was replaced by a system that treated everyone the same. The authors of this latest report add to this, arguing that a lottery would be a means of ensuring a greater social mix and less social segregation in our schools.