The Parental Right to Choose
Demo at Hove Town Hall
click the photo to see
a map of the catchment areas
Back in the 1980s before the the Tory government introduced
the apparent 'right' of parents to choose the school to send their children
to, local education authorities (LEAs) allocated children to their schools
via a system of catchment areas: the geographical distribution of upcoming
secondary age children across a borough was mapped to the distribution
of available school places, and the borders of 'catchment areas' for
the borough's schools were laid down - subject to periodic revision in
response to the changing birthrate, new housing developments, etc.
This was something of a blunt instrument, and the comprehensive
ideal that every local school should be as good as any other was not
very reassuring, because reality was different. There were some exceptions,
not to say, circumventions. A sibling link rule was observed, so that
if the catchment area changed, and the school for your street changed,
you could send your second and any subsequent children to the school
were your first child was already a pupil.
In addition, special needs both medical and academic
were considered. Dorothy Stringer, for example, had a very strong
music department, and was always keen to recruit pupils who could add
to its orchestras. So, even if you were outside its catchment area, a
case for your musical child could be made, and was very likely to succeed.
The introduction of the apparent parental right to choose
resulted in the flight first of middle class parents from predominantly
working class schools and then of every other parent who felt
they must follow suit or risk damaging their child's educational opportunities.
This in turn led to the over-subscription of places at predominantly middle
class schools and under-subscription at predominantly working class schools.
Inevitably this led to the creation of sink schools. That's
what happened to Stanley Deason, which, after a few attempts to relaunch
it as Marina High and then as Comart, was finally closed. The other victim
of 'the right to choose' was Falmer, today the smallest secondary school
in the city, hovering on the threshold of becoming an 'academy'.