THE Government’s oft-repeated insistence that parental choice lies at the heart of its schools policy will ring hollow with more than 1,000 families in our region today, as they ponder what to do after being disappointed at being unable to get a child into a school they want them to attend. Some will appeal, and some will undoubtedly succeed, but many face simply having to accept the school allocated.
The fundamental problem is that there are too few good schools; those that are perceived to offer the best education are inevitably over-subscribed by families determined that their children should have every chance to succeed. This is not just perfectly understandable; it is laudable. Parents who recognise the value of a good education and academic success are to be applauded.
For some parents, the choice of available schools is unenviable; it is a question of choosing the least weak in their catchment area. The Government argues that encouraging free schools will increase choice and raise standards, allowing families to send their children into an educational environment with a clear ethos and a commitment to high standards. Critics of this policy argue that raising the standards of schools across the board is the answer.
In truth, there is merit in both points of view, but such debates are of little use to parents worried about their offspring’s future. Matters are not being helped by rising birth rates and cuts to the schools building programme, both factors which place further pressure on places.
There are some encouraging signs; the number of disappointed families is a little lower this year than last. It does, however, remain to be seen if the Government’s commitment to parental choice can be translated from political rhetoric into reality.