I wonder what to make of the news that
Brighton and Hove City council announced that schools under its authority will in some cases pick pupils randomly from within a catchment area, rather than giving preference to those living closest.
Should commend itself to people, I’d have thought, since I can’t think of a better way of guaranteeing equality of opportunity — of which I thought we were all supposed to be in favour — than giving everyone an equal chance in a raffle. A lot of people don’t quite seem to see it that way, though. Curiously, though, apparently
Brighton has argued they will have more people going to their nearest school, about 70% compared with the current figure of 40%. At the moment in theory parents can apply anywhere in Brighton and travel, so long as they can afford to.In future they will only go into the ballot in their catchment postcode area.
I’ve probably got this wrong, but I’d have thought that the medium- to long-term effect of this will just be to change house prices a bit; clearly the advantage of having a house just down the road from a desirable school will decrease, taking the price with it, but presumably, overall, the desirability of houses in particular postal districts will increase, since if you want a chance of sending your child to a particularly desirable school in Brighton, you’ll have to be in the right district to enter the lottery. You might not win, but you have to be in it to win it, as they say.
You might argue that this makes it somewhat fairer, since the premium on the price of a house that merely enters you for the lottery will presumably be less than that on the price of one that pretty much guarantees you a place for your child, but I’m not sure that in the great scheme of things it works out any fairer.
I suppose part of the problem is that people talk a great deal of cant about fairness, equality of opportunity and so forth. People don’t want that at all; they want something to deliver what they see as the best result for them and their family, and who is to blame them? I’m all in favour of high government spending on anything that’s likely to benefit me and opposed to my taxes being wasted on things that won’t. Similarly, the fairest tax regime is clearly one under which I pay as little as possible. However, I don’t try to dress this up as a point of principle, particularly.
In practice, I’m perfectly prepared to go along with a messy compromise that keeps everyone reasonably happy and (since I do have a sense of fair play, as opposed to social justice) one in which no one gets too badly left out, since I recognise that messy results that don’t leave anyone feeling too aggrieved are the best we can hope for in this life.
One point I would make to anyone proposing bringing back the 11+ as a solution to this; that may well be an excellent idea for all sorts of reasons, but one of the reasons abolishing it was initially a very popular policy with the Conservatives as well as with Labour was that the upwardly mobile and aspirational parents of the 1960s were unhappy that, no matter how well they did for themselves, if little Johnnie messed up his 11+, then it was the local Secondary Mod for him along with the local chavs (or whatever they were then called).
If you’re in favour of the 11+, then it seems to me that you’re ipso facto saying that you’re not in favour of parental choice in the matter of your child’s eduction, at least not if you’re staying in the state system, and that you trust your local education authority to make the right decisions for your children. As I say, I’m well aware of the strengths of the old grammar schools, but I fear that if they were brought back, we’d be deafened by complaints from parents whose children failed, for some unaccountable reason, to get into one.