Thursday, March 01, 2007

Lottery is the least worst way of allocating school places

In my rush yesterday to publicise the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, I didn’t get round yesterday to posting about Brighton and Hove’s controversial plan to allocate secondary school places by lottery.

As I mentioned on this blog some while ago, this has always seemed to me the most equitable way of allocating places to oversubscribed schools. I base this conclusion on the following assumptions. Selection on grounds of academic ability is divisive and wrong. A system of schools with particular specialisms selecting on grounds of aptitude for music, sport or whatever is not much fairer. And allocating places on the basis of how close a family lives to a school simply leads to higher house prices in the catchment areas of the more popular schools – selection by parental salary.

If we reject – as I do – the dirigisme of the anti-choice lobby, who appear to think that education officials should simply allocated children to schools without reference to the views of children or parents, then it is hard to see a fairer way of allocating places than by lottery.

Of course it won’t be a panacea. For parental choice to be meaningful, there does have to be diversity among schools in a given area. Some will stress academic achievement, some pastoral care and others sport, music etc. Selection by lottery would mean that the star footballer who wanted to go to the school that specialised in sport might lose out to the child with two left feet who has just applied because that’s where all his/her friends are going. No system is going to be perfect.

But if we want to have parental choice, avoid condemning children to educational failure and create schools with balanced intakes where most children will be able to fit in, learn and thrive, pulling the names out of a hat to allocate places in oversubscribed schools is probably the least unfair way.


Tom Papworth said...

Here's a crazy thought: why not let the parents decide where to school their children?

You keep talking about parental choice, but then advocate a lottery, which is no choice at all.

Why not let the parents send their children wherever they want, let the money follow the children, let the good schools expand and let the failing ones go to the wall?

It works everywhere else!

Tristan said...

Why is selecting based upon ability so divisive and wrong?
We hear this shouted by illiberal egalitarians, but surely its worse to put children in schools which are not suited to them, or pursue lower standards to include everyone?

The problem with the old tripartate system was that it was too rigid and schools weren't allowed the independence to grow to suit children. Give parents and children choice, let the money follow the children and let schools have the freedom to choose and cater for their pupils.