Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Secondary school admission - a right, not a priviledge

For over sixteen thousand anxious mums and dads waiting on tenterhooks to find out whether their child has been offered a place at the school of their choice, the wait is nearly over.

Kent County Council sent out almost 16,400 First Class letters yesterday, offering places in a hundred and one secondary schools across the county, and over 3,500 parents chose to receive their offers online as well. Under the admissions scheme, which was imposed in 2004 by the then Secretary of State for Education, KCC must offer every child a place by "National Offer Day" - 1st March or the nearest working day.

And whilst ninety five percent of children will be offered one of the three choices of school they put on their form, for a mercifully small five percent of families, the suspense continues through the Appeal Panel process.

My eldest daughter - who passed her eleven plus with a good mark - was offered a Grammar school, but apalling public transport from our village outside Tunbridge Wells would have meant, in the worst case, getting the first of four buses fifteen minutes before lessons ended the previous day! After a series of nerve-wracking appeals, she was fortunately offered a place at a more local Grammar. But why can't we just build in more capacity where it's needed?

One of the few things which made our experience last year a little less daunting was the assistance we got from the KCC Choice Advisers - expert education staff acting as advocates for parents, guiding them through the maze of admissions. If you're in the same boat as we were, call them on 01622 694073 or 01622 694065.

The irony is that in so many other areas, such as health, social care and so on, our Government seem fixated on personal choice. So why can't local councils be allowed to expand their selective school capacity to meet demand, at the same time as celebrating and building on the many achievements of their non-selective schools?

I well remember a previous Labour Education Minister - the product of a Grammar school education - pointlessly attempting to explain on the BBC's "Question Time" why the educational choice which has clearly been of such benefit to him, should now be denied to so many.

In Kent at least, our local politicians are clear - an appropriate, stimulating and challenging education is a right, not a priviledge.

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