It’s secondary school admissions time, and over the weekend the Torygraph reported on the growing practice of allocating school places either by lottery or “fair banding”. Now while I wouldn’t disagree with the complaints of social engineering or damage to house values, the fact is that however loudly the middle classes moan about it, the educational establishment will remain unmoved – even encouraged. Yet those hit hardest are not the middle classes but pupils, and disadvantaged pupils at that.
The piece includes a quote from a head teacher which I think pretty well sums up the view of said establishment:
“Fair banding ensures we have a completely comprehensive intake with children of all abilities and from all ethnic backgrounds. We reflect the full range of society.
“We have an excellent and completely multicultural school. It is genuinely comprehensive.”
There’s your problem. No explanation of why a comprehensive and engineered ‘all ethnicity’ intake is a good thing in terms of the individual pupil’s education. It’s all about the veneer of equality, which seems to be an end in itself. No questioning of why schools should be proud of being a ‘jack of all trades’ rather than seeking to provide a high quality education tailored to every pupil, which a comprehensive will always have a handicap in trying to provide.
The problem with selection by lottery or banding is that it fails to address the root issues and instead tries to keep on life support the comatose body of the comprehensive education system. It rates equality over quality.
Jennie Varley, the vice-chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, said: “This is a form of social engineering.
“It seems wrong to decide the fate of children on the roll of a dice. It means that children might end up with the wrong education which can have a damaging impact on their lives.
It’s certainly not fair that a pupils future should be decided by the roll of a dice. Indeed it is arguably far less fair than the hated 11+ or the more common system – the untended consequence of the comprehensive experiment – of selection by mortgage.
The case of fair banding is even more bizarre. It is selection by academic ability, but with out any useful end purpose – at least in the context, or to the benefit of, the pupil. It serves only the blind pursuit of Equality.
Instead of following the dogma of equality for all, we should focus on quality for all. Rather than thinly spreading the pupils from the bad schools across the whole system where they are less noticeable, concentrate on improving the bad schools; as Varley said, “The Government should be focusing instead on improving the standards of all schools.” Quite.
Alternatively, one could follow the establishment thinking: selection by lottery will work to return education to the practical end result of Sixties-style comprehensive education – having every school tend towards a level somewhere just below average. It will happen thus: average (or failing) school gets a decent head; results start to improve; school’s reputation rises; middle class parents, with their horrendously irritating values of aspiration and hard work and their children so indoctrinated, move closer to the school; such pupils further drive up results. Then, myopic Leftists started wailing at the lack of diversity in the intake and mess about with the admissions, results start to decline and so the virtuous circle inverts.
Meanwhile, the universities are then expected to rig their own admissions criteria. In the words of the chairman of independent school heads on Monday:
Trying to force universities to repair, let alone make up for, the problems of 18 years of upbringing and education is certainly not the answer …. It is approaching the issue from the wrong end and is like asking an engineer to improve the design of an aircraft after the plane has already crashed.”
(Alternatively a bad school introduces banding. Are they looking for a quick fix, or being obsessed with the social make-up of the school rather than the quality of education it’s providing, which might just hint at the real reason for the school’s problems?)
Of course there is no perfect solution. Surely, though, some schools could be allowed to run a system of selection that doesn’t hinge on the value of the parents’ house or pure luck …. Maybe some schools, whether under the academy or free school model, could select those pupils whose particular aptitude that school is best at exploiting? Some of these schools could, say, select on academic ability, regardless of social class, ethnicity or cultural bent. How could any true egalitarian object?