We need more school choice, not less

Today we learn that some Labour MPs are very critical of parents who arrange the baptism of their children in to the Catholic Church so they can go to a Catholic Church School.

These Labour MPs seem to think it is wrong that parents should be able to exercise choice. They always blame the parents who take action to get their children into a better school, rather than taking action themselves to raise the standards of the other schools the discerning parents do not favour.

This criticism of these parents is doubly unpleasant. It firstly implies that all these baptisms are arranged just to get a child into a better school. They do not allow for the possibility that parents are believers and think baptism of the child when the child is old enough to have some understanding is a good idea.

Secondly, even if a parent is organising the baptism to secure the school place, that is not an unworthy thing to do. It shows parental concern and determination to do the best for their child within the framework of state educational provision.

To work properly, there needs to be more choice for parents in state education. I am fed up with the apartheid in UK schooling, between the fortunate few who can send their children to excellent schools by paying fees, and the many who have to send their children to local state schools, whether they are good or not. The answer is not to reduce choice and stop people being able to send their children to good schools. The answer is to give more parents more power to choose good schools, so more schools will become good in order to stay afloat. At least the Labour government has not tried the closure of the best independent schools, which would simply force them offshore, but it has sought to damage them by challenging their charitable status.

There was depressing news this week from a survey of teachers attitudes towards Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The survey showed that there are teachers who wrongly think Oxford and Cambridge charge higher fees than elsewhere, and who are unaware of the bursaries and scholarships available for children from low income homes who achieve the necessary standard. The survey also showed some teachers think Oxbridge mainly takes children from independent schools.

In order to break down the educational barriers between public and private we need more confidence in the state system, so more pupils are told they too can go to the best universities if they apply themselves to the task.

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5 Comments

  1. Mike H
    Posted January 12, 2008 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    While I support your call for greater choice in education, I am opposed to the establishment of more faith-based schools. I accept that they provide a better education (according to Ofsted) than many state schools, but I am concerned that they also have the potential to create yet more division in society.

    The root of the problem lies in the poor standard of schools provided by the state in some areas. If the state schools raised their game there would be no need for the faith-based alternative.

    Would the introduction of faith schools close to an inner-city sink school solve all the problems? I would argue that the answer is 'no'. The more able children and those with parents who cared about education would benefit from the faith-based offering, but the inevitable selection process would ensure that the 'problem' kids remained at the sink school. The underlying issue would therefore remain unresolved.

    The roots of the problem are those factors that have led to the sink school becoming 'sink' in the first place. That's what needs to be addressed, not just the introduction of more competition. And the solution, in part, is the banishing of the failed fluffy liberal ideas that have plagued much of the state education system for many years, and the re-introduction of effective school discipline.

  2. Francesca Preece
    Posted January 12, 2008 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    On the Catholic question, I expect these Labour MPs are critical as they seem to believe that there isn't a tradition of Christianity in this country.

    It seems absurd to them that some parents may want their children to follow the Catholic flock, especially since many of these politicians have helped to undermine the Christian faith and are overly keen to promote atheism.

    As for the state vs private school war, I wish the Government would acknowledge its failings in comprehensive education rather than to attack private schools for running their businesses successfully.

    Very few or none of these public schools have state funding so why do the Government single them out as scapegoats of their own ills in providing education to its young citizens?

    Public schools do not necessarily give a better education and it is unfair to suggest otherwise. You are what you make of your education.

    A little elbow grease and diligence go a long way, irrespective of your place in society or school.

  3. John Wrexham
    Posted January 13, 2008 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    It looks like nowadays about the only thing the Government does not allow your choice of school for your child to be based upon is academic ability and potential:

    where your parents live, how easy it is for you to move house, whether you are good at sport, music, art or drama; being very poor, being very rich, believing a certain religion, going to the right church – all these have a huge influence on the school you might end up in… seems like time for a change!

  4. mikestallard
    Posted January 13, 2008 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    It might be helpful here to say how things feel at grass roots.

    We have some really bad Comps round here. The average GCSE pass rate this year hovers round the low 40%s. Our biggest Comp is is fresh start. So little hope there.
    Our Grammar School (wisely) went independent. It is excellent in every way. But it costs

  5. Simon_C
    Posted January 14, 2008 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    For what it's worth, I am also deeply opposed to faith based schools. To my mind the only place there is for religion in school is for teaching what the faiths bellive and their history. To me, it is abhorrent to polute young minds with what I view as religious superstition.

    As I say in someone's tag line. "You keep your religion out of our schools, I'll keep my thinking out or your church"

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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