The government wants to prosecute more parents

Yesterday we were treated to the news that the government is going to investigate how many parents might have made misleading claims when applying for a preferred state school place for their children. No sooner than we learn that Harrow are not going to prosecute a parent who applied for a place at a better school from her parents address where she was staying at the time, than the government decides to take up the cudgels to stop people finding imaginative ways of gaining the place they want.

I have some advice for the government. Instead of declaring war on parents trying to play the system, reform the rotten system. This would not happen if there were enough places at good schools in each County or unitary Council area. Whilst I of course do not condone misrepresentation or fraud, I think the right punishment for anyone found guilty of it should be loss of the favoured place and a place at a poor school, not a term in prison. There needs to be some sense of proportion.

We pay lots of tax to have education departments which serve those with children well. Those departments should be trying to ensure that all parents have a school of their choice, not seeking to enforce complex catchment rules to ration scarce good places in a way which comes down heavily on the disappointed. We need schools departments dedicated to creating more good schools, and more places at good schools.

The very system encourages people to be selective with the truth. You are unlikely to get a place at a good school from outside its catchment by saying you want your child to go to School A because it has better exam marks than School B. Arguments have to be constructed around issues like school transport, single sex education, where other family members go and what the specialism of the school might be. I have met a good few caring and sensible parents in my time, desperate for their child to go to School A. I always support their applications, whilst of course advising them to put the best truthful case forward that they can muster. I want a system which allows more parents to get their first choice, not a system which seeks to criminalise them if they get the application form wrong by mistake, or even if they dress up their answers a bit because it is so important to them.

All of us in the public sector should remember who pays the wages. PUblic servants are here to serve the public, not to create ever more complicated and unsatisfactory systems so they can prosecute more people who fall foul of them.

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20 Comments

  1. Posted July 4, 2009 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    In this appallingly micro-managed Orwellian world, everything is skewed.

    Information on a form isn’t to help with processing the form; it is evidence in any future court case. This is probably because they have not yet managed to fit spy cameras in every house so they can check up on the form filler as they do it….

    This is a system where bin men can give “legally binding” tickets that, if disputed, can leave people with a criminal record. (I wish I could issue my own when they’ve failed to carry out the duties they are paid for). It’s where bored elderly ladies are given speed cameras to terrorise motorists. Nothing exists that can’t be used as a stick to beat the public with.

    We’re told by the politicians that if we have done nothing wrong, we have nothing to fear. But then we discover that so many of them are guilty of fiddling the system, or out-and-out fraud. That’s OK – there’s going to be a law to allow the guilty politicians to be jailed for a year. Even if we believe that they evidence will be available, and the prosecution will take place (cash for questions, anyone?) they plan to vote themselves a maximum penalty of a year in jail. Why not the ten years that the rest of us have to suffer? Better yet, double it to twenty years – ten for fraud and another ten for hypocrisy.

    More laws to make people suffer are not the answer. Remove the raft of legislation that is simply there to make our lives difficult (and while you’re at it, the vast quantity of new ridiculous speed limits around here), and let us all live reasonable lives in peace. I’m heartily sick of being preached to and threatened.

    Politicians and officials at all levels should remember what public service is all about – they are charged with and paid for making our lives better. That’s not achieved with more and more claustrophobic rules. It’s done by providing the services that people want and need, and have been taxed handsomely for.

  2. Posted July 4, 2009 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    It all seems so simple.

    Why do Governments of all types want to complicate our lives.

    Simple Laws.
    Simple education system.
    Simple health care provision.
    Simple tax system.
    Adequate pension provision.
    Simple benefits system

    Result less administration cost.

    Why do we have this post code lottery business.

    Perhaps we should ban post codes !!!!!!!

  3. Posted July 4, 2009 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    JR: “All of us in the public sector should remember who pays the wages.”

    Too true but it seems very few do.
    When will your party’s leadership accept that abandoning grammar schools was a dreadful mistake?

    • Posted July 4, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      The ill conceived idea was a ‘vote winning’ ploy and, therefore, doomed to fail.

      The government’s ‘threatening’ attitude to parents reinforces their extremely and increasingly unpleasant ‘true colours’.

  4. Posted July 4, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    If the prosecution is retrospective, would it cover certain former Prime Ministers who sent their sons to non-allocated schools ?

    • Posted July 4, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Perhaps the system of choice was introduced primarily for the benefit of the former premier’s children – must have saved him and his wife a fortune in private school fees. First in the queue and guaranteed places.

      • Posted July 4, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        “All animals are equal but some or MORE equal than others”

        as a great man once said

  5. Posted July 4, 2009 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    John,
    I think this news yet again demonstrates the complete contempt that many politicians and officials have for the tax-paying middle classes. We work hard, don’t make a fuss, pay our taxes and are then actively discrimated against by the ruling elite. Our frustration and contempt for the largely self-serving elite who exist in Westminster, Whitehall and many Council Offices is increasing.
    As a taxpayer I want equal access to public services irrespective of where you live in the UK, your colour, ethnicity social background, etc. It is time why stopped these misguided attempts at social engineering and focussed on the delivery of good public services.
    For example why should my father who lives in a Southern England constituency have to pay all his care costs, whereas if he lived in Scotland he would get it for free. He has spent his entire working life paying takes and NI in the apparently mistaken belief that when he needed care the state would provide assistance. Instead he is forced to rely on what savings he has and ultimately to sell his home. Why should such blatenly unfaire discrimination exist in the UK, both he and the Scots are taxpayers, both have needs, but care is being rationed on a postcode basis!
    The example on education is just the same, we all should want the best for our children, so why not cut the education bureuacracy and waste and focus instead on improving the quality of all schools to avoid the postcode lottery and force parents to be economical with the truth to get the best for their offspring. When I hear the new head of the Grammar Schools Association suggesting that his members advocate discrimination in selection to favour children from poorer social backgrounds, I now there is something badly wrong with the direction of our country.
    If you and your colleagues at Westminster do not start to tackle and reverse this discrimination it will only increase resentment and increase the support for the more radical parties – come on lets have fair play for all taxpayers!

    • Posted July 4, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      I think we need to update Neil Kinnock’s speech from 1983: “If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old.”

      “If Gordon Brown wins on Thursday, I warn you not to work hard. I warn you not to be successful. I warn you not to start businesses. I warn you not to have aspirations.”

      I just realised, Neil Kinnock’s speech sums up his party. If you think you’re ‘ordinary’ then vote Labour. If you have ambition then they don’t want you, and you should find a different party.

  6. Posted July 4, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Prosecuting more parents seems like a very sensible course of action and should receive more support from the public and opposition parties.

    • Posted July 6, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Only if the parents can then sue whoever is responsible for the lousy education on offer. I had a problem when my daughter was at school, argued with the head and spoke, they weren’t listening, to two Tory MPs, bloody useless. I had to sign a form to say that she would continue with learning German in the 5th and 6th Form, then they changed the timetable so she could not do so, that was a contract, the school broke it and got away with it. In my book, the head should have been sacked.

      Education is by and large lousy, look at the youngsters they are turning out. The sad thing is it is not the childrens fault, it is the stupid system and the people running it. But Cameron will not change things, not now not ever.

      Derek Buxton

  7. Posted July 4, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Is the phenomena of parents “sexing up” applications a consequence of being part way through education reforms that switch from a system where the State sorts out the quality of provision to one that relies upon the caveat emptor principle to do so?

    These reforms (so far as I have noticed being part of all parties’ thinking) place a very considerable burden on the parents, one they have not been primed to cope with or even fully recognise. Hence their response is often confined to chasing only the best schools whereas the reforms require that they stand as proxies for the education authorities of old (that delivered too many “bog standard” comprehensives which spoiled or ruined the life chances of their “ customers’ ” children) and make sure themselves that the education they buy passes muster.

    The buyers also do not yet realise that supply and demand means that unless they (as the reforms intend and require) take a direct hand in improving the schools to which many of them are obliged to send their children, the supply of good schools will never be sufficient. Reform being only part complete, i.e. many schools have not managed to adjust their offering to please the market, and the new, direct buyers of education not having learned the extent of their post-reform responsibilities, untruthful applications to the best schools proliferate.

  8. Posted July 4, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Blogging will not be enough, they have declared war on us and if all we do is moan about it they will simply laugh and continue.
    Now I’m NOT inciting violence, I’m far too intelligent for that, that is exactly what they want.
    I think the fragmented British people need to unite and begin speaking with a single voice.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/lawandorder/3507238/Social-services-set-up-CCTV-camera-in-couples-bedroom.html

  9. Posted July 4, 2009 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    “Public servants are here to serve the public, not to create ever more complicated and unsatisfactory systems so they can prosecute more people who fall foul of them.”

    I agree, and wouldn’t it be nice if public servants generally took this to heart.

    I get the impression that government use new legislation as the normal reaction to something that is perceived to have gone wrong. It is as if they are saying “don’t blame us – lack of legislation was the culprit, and we are putting that right. Rubbish, of course, but it is as if they can’t help themselves.

  10. Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    How does an individual family make its choices in this society ? How to educate their children ? How to find suitable free-to-air programming ? How to preserve culture and religion ?

    It appears that every avenue to autonomy is blocked and punished and that people are treated like cattle entering the abattoir. Is violence the only way to express anger and seek freedom ?

    Timonthy Garton-Ash gives an interview to Der Spiegel claiming both British parties are “social democrat” with much the same approach to state provision; is that really a democracy ?

    Is it now impossible to choose to live life other than in accordance with the dictates of The State ? Is it really a Welfarist Prison Camp like Patrick McGoohan’s ‘Prisoner’ ?

    The levels of anger and frustration are widespread and casual conversation brings forth flashes of resentment and fury; someone will harness that raw power and overturn the apple-cart the political class is guarding so jealously. This country is in a pre-revolutionary phase and some political parties will be demolished by popular anger….first Labour…then…..

    Reply: Channel energies into legal political action. Violence is not the answer.

    • Posted July 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Though they would both frantically deny it tghere are many similarities, and whilst Labour are a bit more interventionist, high-tax, high meddle-in-your-life, it really remains to be seen what Mr Cameron will do.

      At the moment he is (successfully) doing a pre-1997 Blair, saying nothing and letting supporters project their fantasies on to him. What he will do in office? I don’t know, I hope for uber-Thatcher come Keith Joseph, but I fear it maybe “Blu-Labour”

      Yet one almost has to vote tory to boot out the incumbents.

  11. Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Violence will only play into their hands, that is what they planned for, never do what the enemy expects or wants.

    http://britsattheirbest.com/

  12. Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    How are ALL parents going to get their first choice?

  13. Posted July 5, 2009 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    there are two things to say about this: firstly those heads whose schools are returning poor results need to be encouraged to leave, or else be subject to a referendum by parents to get rid of them, and secondly the government ought to be looking at ways of enabling parents to make effective choices, such as by the introduction of (and here I show my age) Rhodes Boyson’s beloved educational voucher system.

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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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