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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do we have Educational Choice or Inequality?


Suffolk is going through huge changes to its education system. This is encompassing everything from the move to 2 tier, new academies and free schools, to changing catchment areas for free travel. It never ceases to amaze me, how as a culture, we seem to always find complicated solutions to what should be simple problems. We have endless bureaucratic meetings under the guise of a consultation for decisions already made, to complex and unfair travel catchment areas that could easily be determined by feeder school.

Out of all of this chaos the word that always seems to be prominent is “choice”. However, if you look at the reason for parents to want to choose one school over another, the majority of the time it’s down to the performance difference between them. Surely then, if all schools were equal, this “choice” would not be necessary except in a few minority cases. I think it is fair to say, that these differences are down to quality of infrastructure and teaching materials, quality of teachers and techniques, school leadership and the environment in which the school is located. Last summer I attended the open evenings for several upper schools to evaluate them as candidates to teach my child. What struck me most was the vast difference in quality of infrastructure, such as quality of buildings and facilities, and one does have to ask why some schools are able to achieve such a high standard compared to others.

In my opinion the time and money spent on trying to facilitate choice would be better spent on bringing all schools and teachers to the same standard. Yes, average results for a school will vary depending upon the social environment of its intake, but each school should provide an equal opportunity for a child to achieve the same level of education according to their ability, and not the capability of the school.

Taking a simplistic approach, I wonder if the best person to achieve this would be one of the current heads of those schools that are successful today, acting almost as a super head of one large virtual school. They would take best practice from successful schools and implement it across the county, allocating budget proportionally to bring all schools to the same level. Now I’m not part of the education system myself, apart from as a parent, so  I expect there’s a whole range of issues I’m not aware of, but does the education system really need to be so complex and unequal as it is today?

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