Today was one of the two big dates for parents in the education calendar. Today is national offer day for primary school places. Parents around the country having been receiving emails notifying them of their child’s place of education for the next few years. Earlier in the Spring, on 3rd March, parents received notification for secondary school places.
The news has a big impact on the family’s day to day life, and if we believe the media the decision will have long lasting effects on our children’s life chances. These days, even for primary or infant and junior schools parents do incredible amounts of research. When I was a child everyone just went to their local school – choice only kicked in for secondary school and beyond.
Now everyone scours league tables, reads OFSTED reports, goes to several open days/evenings, and look very carefully at the class sizes, specialisms and facilities. Today’s report from the National Audit Office is official confirmation of what many parents have known – or feared – for the last few years: the shortage of school places is reaching alarming levels. The report said one-in-five primary schools was full or near capacity with London accounting for more than a third of all extra places needed.
The current education admission system is broken. We see families buying that house in the ever-shrinking catchment area to make sure their children get in? Others employ tutors so their children can pass entrance exams or the 11+? Others sign in at church every Sunday when they have no sense of faith.
Every parent wants the best for their children. Whilst most schools within the UK will provide a good education to all children it is hard to avoid the facts - we know that public school educated people dominate the upper echelons of UK society; politics, sport and the arts (The Guardian). Then there’s selective state schools. 29% of Labour MPs went to grammar schools (The Sutton Trust).
As a children’s and youth worker, and a school governor, I still believe that education is more than just pure academics. We need to develop well rounded adults, and whilst it is now near impossible to find employment without a GCSE grade C in English and Maths it is important that the education system supports children’s interests, support friendships between different social, economic and religious backgrounds.
Today for me is a reminder that education has become too focussed on a narrow band of results and league tables that cause stress both for parents and teachers. We need an education system that truly values and encourages children rather than allowing economically affluent parents to in effect gain priority over other parents.