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Big Issue: Secondary Schools Admissions Procedure

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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'.

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