Today, 1.2 million parents will find out if their children have got the secondary school place of their “choice”, and loud will be the cries of rage when many of them find that this choice is, at best, Hobson’s, and at worst no place at all.
In my own borough, Lambeth, every year thousands of secondary pupils have to leave, in order to seek an education in an adjacent one. Under Labour the idea was to create a more “diverse” state system. Duff schools were to be shut down, good ones expanded. Tambourine-banging Tony was happy to see the expansion of faith schools, and, of course, there have been the privately sponsored city academies.
But none of this has given parents more effective “choice”, while removing the responsibility for admissions policy from the local authorities and handing it over to the schools themselves has only resulted in more covert selection. As a result, the trickle away from the state sector in London is turning into a torrent. The latest wheeze is to allow local authorities to run lotteries for places: what sort of “choice” is that? It’s like saying that when you scratch your National Lottery card you’re “choosing” to become a multimillionaire.
What a damn stupid idea “parental choice” was to begin with, and how it pains me to see the Government tinkering frantically with its “admissions code”, trying to level up a playing field that can never be anything of the sort. If we’re lucky – very lucky – when his time comes we may be able to get our son into Pimlico comprehensive in Westminster. Pimlico is not a bad school – but it’s not a conspicuously great one. I well recall giving a former Labour minister a lift home from a party last August. He lived two streets away from Pimlico comp. When my wife asked him if he’d considered sending his children there, he said that he hadn’t considered it for a second.
With guardians of public morality like these, who needs the Tories? Offering parents a meaningless choice is worse than us having no choice at all. Frantic lest they be seen to be going to the bad old days of the 11-plus, Tony and his hypocritical chums will offer any sop to the electorate other than what we want, which is good, local schools not the “choice” for our kids to spend hours travelling across town to get to a half-decent one.
If anyone’s remotely interested, here’s my action plan for these good, local schools: reintroduce selection by ability and strictly to within a given local postcode, abolish state faith schools and dodgy “academies”, double the salaries of teachers and end private finance initiatives and all other forms of private-sector investment in state schools. Er, that’s it. You can reach me through the Standard, Tone – or Gordon – when the next reshuffle’s due. I may not be an MP, but when’s that stopped you lot handing out a portfolio in the past?