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.