03 March 2008

School choice lotteries: Dave misuses the English language

Well, today was the day when thousands of kids in England found out which school they were going to. An increasing number of local authorities are moving towards lotteries as a way of allocating school places after the government's new Admissions Code banned some (although not all) of the practices that schools had previously used to discriminate between applicants (interviews, questionnaires, etc.)

Dave Cameron thinks that the lottery system is 'unfair and inequitable' and pledges that the Tories will scrap it if they get elected.

Well, Dave, I've got news for you: the lottery might be many things, but by definition it can't be 'unfair' or 'inequitable'. (Assuming, of course, that it's not rigged.) In fact, it's the only fair system if schools are oversubscribed, unless we expand all the oversubscribed schools so that they can take all the extra pupils. (Which maybe we should do...)

What Dave means of course is that it's unfair because middle-class parents can't 'play the system' like they used to. And where will we be if the middle classes can't stitch up social outcomes? Egalitarian society? It doesn't bear thinking about. Never mind, there's always the private sector for the really well-off...

The lottery system is not perfect. For one thing, it's optional - not all local authorities have introduced it. For another, there are still forms of selection allowed under the new Admissions Code - e.g. by parental faith (in faith schools). So a kid could get into a school just because his or her parents happen to be religious nutters (or even, sensible religious people) - or, as this article by Times columnist Alice Miles from last year points out, because their parents are hypocrites who pretend to be religious just to get them into the school. Also, grammar schools are allowed to select by ability, and private schools according to any old criteria. So, plenty of reform still needed, but we can certainly do without the likes of Dave Cameron and Micky Gove denying the fundamentals of the English language. Jog on...

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