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from 2005 (9 Oct): Haberdasher’s School selects by lottery

Posted by kleroterion on Monday, 21 December 2009

Letters: Independent on Sunday 9 October 2005  Life is a lottery

The decision by Haberdashers’ Aske’s school to use a lottery to select its intake (“Schools lottery to foil ‘rich’ parents”, 2 October) is not unique. In parts of Lancashire they have been doing just that since 1980 and the system is in widespread use in parts of the United States.

From: Conall Boyle [mailto:conallboyle@hotmail.com]
Sent: 09 October 2005 15:20
Subject: in today’s Letters: Independent on Sunday

 from:  Letters: Independent on Sunday 9 October 2005

Life is a lottery

The decision by Haberdashers’ Aske’s school to use a lottery to select its intake (“Schools lottery to foil ‘rich’ parents”, 2 October) is not unique. In parts of Lancashire they have been doing just that since 1980 and the system is in widespread use in parts of the United States. Parents clamouring to get their children into “magnet” schools such as Haberdashers’ Aske’s are likely to be disappointed if they hope for better exam results. There are no wonder schools. Results are determined overwhelmingly by the socio-economic status of their intake. Of course parents are not stupid. Making sure that little Fiona or Rupert mixes with the right sort is crucial Heaven knows what the parents will think when riff-raff from the sink estates slip in by a lottery.

Conall Boyle

 Margam Park Village, West Glamorgan

 (What I wrote (and was edited as above) was:

 The decision by Haberdasher’s Aske’s school to use a lottery to select its intake (SIndy, 2nd Oct) of 208 from 2,500 applicants is brave, but not unique. In parts of Lancashire they have been doing just that since 1980. In May 1994 the Indy reported that aggrieved parents had taken the LEA to court to stop selection by lottery. They lost, and in places like Bolton and Ormskirk they retain the option of randomly allocating 11-year-olds to a secondary school in the borough.

 This system is in widespread use in parts of the US – but invariably it is connected with the supply of a limited number of educational vouchers. The results of randomly doling out vouchers to a selection of disadvantaged parents who apply for them has not been encouraging. The much vaunted application of market forces to allow some parents to choose better schools has not resulted in an overall uplift of educational achievement. (This was the finding of a major study in Chicago by Cullen, Jacob and Levitt in 2003).

 So parents clamouring to get their children into ‘magnet’ schools like Haberdasher’s Aske’s are likely to be disappointed if they hope for better exam results. There are no wonder-schools led by super-heads which can change outcomes by much. A school’s results are determined overwhelmingly by the socio-economic status of their intake.

 Of course parents are not stupid. Making sure that little Fiona or little Rupert mixes with the right sort of class-mates is crucial. It is social streaming that leads to better grades, and identifies a school with nice middle-class children. Heaven knows what the parents will think when the riff-raff from the sink council estates are allowed to slip in with the aid of a lottery. 

  =============

 original story and editorial in last Sunday’s Indy:

 

Schools lottery to foil ‘rich’ parents

By Andy McSmith, Political Editor

Published: 02 October 2005 Independent on Sunday

Top state schools are to be encouraged to choose their pupils by lottery to thwart middle-class parents who “buy” their children places by moving house.

All the well-known stratagems, such as taking a tape measure to a local street map to work out the exact boundaries of a school catchment area, renting a false address close to the best school in the locality or paying £100,000 extra for a house overlooking the playground, could turn out to matter less than the luck of the draw.

An independently supervised lottery will give the child from the sink estate across town exactly the same chance of a place in the best school as the child of middle- class parents living a short walk away.

To make sure the scheme is not frustrated by the cost of transport, the Government will also make sure there are free school buses for those who need them.

The plan will infuriate homeowners who have been made hundreds of thousands of pounds richer by the effect a school with a good reputation has on local house prices.

The Secretary of State for Education, Ruth Kelly, is determined to end what she sees as hidden injustices in the secondary school system that give children from deprived backgrounds no real choice but to accept a place at the nearest secondary school. She is due to publish a White Paper this month that will shake up the whole admissions process.

She told last week’s Labour Party conference: “For too long, access to some schools was open only to those who could afford to buy an expensive house next to a good school while the rest were told to accept what they were given. There was nothing fair about that approach.”

The lottery is being pioneered by a secondary school in south-east London, Haberdashers’ Aske’s, which received almost 2,500 applicants for not many more than 200 places this year.

A spokesman for the Department of Education confirmed that other schools with exceptional numbers of pupils chasing every place would also be encouraged to use “random allocation”.

Other proposals in the White Paper include encouraging the spread of “banding”, under which 11-year-olds are tested and graded for their academic ability. The system is already used by some local councils to limit the proportion of top-grade pupils any school can take and compel them to take a minimum number with the lowest grades.

Top state schools are to be encouraged to choose their pupils by lottery to thwart middle-class parents who “buy” their children places by moving house.

All the well-known stratagems, such as taking a tape measure to a local street map to work out the exact boundaries of a school catchment area, renting a false address close to the best school in the locality or paying £100,000 extra for a house overlooking the playground, could turn out to matter less than the luck of the draw.

An independently supervised lottery will give the child from the sink estate across town exactly the same chance of a place in the best school as the child of middle- class parents living a short walk away.

To make sure the scheme is not frustrated by the cost of transport, the Government will also make sure there are free school buses for those who need them.

The plan will infuriate homeowners who have been made hundreds of thousands of pounds richer by the effect a school with a good reputation has on local house prices.

The Secretary of State for Education, Ruth Kelly, is determined to end what she sees as hidden injustices in the secondary school system that give children from deprived backgrounds no real choice but to accept a place at the nearest secondary school. She is due to publish a White Paper this month that will shake up the whole admissions process.

She told last week’s Labour Party conference: “For too long, access to some schools was open only to those who could afford to buy an expensive house next to a good school while the rest were told to accept what they were given. There was nothing fair about that approach.”

The lottery is being pioneered by a secondary school in south-east London, Haberdashers’ Aske’s, which received almost 2,500 applicants for not many more than 200 places this year.

A spokesman for the Department of Education confirmed that other schools with exceptional numbers of pupils chasing every place would also be encouraged to use “random allocation”.

Other proposals in the White Paper include encouraging the spread of “banding”, under which 11-year-olds are tested and graded for their academic ability. The system is already used by some local councils to limit the proportion of top-grade pupils any school can take and compel them to take a minimum number with the lowest grades

Leading article: The schools lottery is an admission of failure

Published: 02 October 2005

Life is a lottery. As we report today, ministers want to make that literally as well as metaphorically true. One of the most important factors in determining the life prospects of children has always been the quality of their education. For that reason, many parents will do almost anything to secure their child’s place at what they think is a good school. Private secondary schooling costs, on average, £65,000. Others spend as much or more extra to buy a house in the catchment areas of popular state schools. Some take a sudden and devout interest in church attendance. There are countless ways in which parental choice, and covert social selection of pupils by schools, continues to polarise Britain’s schools in many areas as sharply as the 11-plus ever did.

Hence ministerial enthusiasm for the idea of choosing pupils for popular schools by lot. It is a system that could not be manipulated, either by pushy or rich parents or by schools. And it would counter concerns that academy schools, for example, which are over-subscribed, will be colonised by the middle classes playing the admissions game.

One virtue of proposing a system of random chance is that it turns a spotlight on the murkier devices currently used to secure desirable places. The fact that many teachers may not like a lottery can be discounted. The reason for their opposition is that it would mean that head teachers would find it more difficult to keep what are now known as challenging pupils out of their schools.

The more fundamental problem is that parents are unlikely to accept the legitimacy of a system based, in effect, on the roll of a dice. This is not simply because they are irrationally committed to the fate of their children, unable to appreciate the purity of a perfectly fair system for the allocation of a scarce resource. It is because people prefer a system based on hypocrisy – where at least they can see the iniquities – to one based on luck. While a lottery is theoretically a fairer way to allocate oversubscribed places than any other, it deprives parents of some ability to plan ahead, and takes what small degree of control they have out of their hands.

It was one of Tony Blair’s boldest boasts that he could reverse the polarisation of Britain’s education system by turning round standards of schools in deprived areas, and by making state schools generally so good that the middle classes would no longer want to go private.

While the Labour government has achieved a great deal in education, it has not been able significantly to reverse the polarising forces at work that segregate schools on class and ethnic lines. For a government that has ambitions to give disadvantaged children a better

 

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Conall Boyle

Margam Park Village, West Glamorgan

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