Letter; Published The Independent 14 January 2008
It needs to be easier to set up a school
Sir: Professor Alan Smithers’ observation in “Late baptisms soar as parents chase Catholic school places” (12 January ) that faith schools do better in exams because they can be more selective over their pupil intake – rather than because of their faith status – has some resonance and is backed by recent joint research from the Institute of Education and the LSE, which found that religious schools in London are educating a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals and have more affluent intakes.
There are too few good state schools to satisfy parental demand.
Most of the best state schools have some form of religious affiliation, and are at least partially selective. This forces many parents to be deceitful in order to secure a place at a good school. The solution to the problem is to make it easier to set up schools – to free up the supply side.
If parent and community groups or not-for-profit organisations were allowed access to state funds to set up schools on the same basis as faith organisations, providing they meet regulatory requirements, then choice would improve and standards would rise. Moreover, it is demonstrably inequitable that in a secular society faith organisations are given easier access to public funds to establish schools compared to other organisations, including those specialising in education.
Opposition parties now seem committed to supply side reforms, so the ball is now in the Government’s court.
Patrick Watson London SW8
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