ADMISSIONS BALLOTS -THE ANSWER TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO THE BEST SCHOOLS FOR THE DISADVANTAGED
Report finds that many of the best comprehensive schools practise a form of selection
With school admissions to the best schools, as things stand and despite a new stricter admissions code, the odds are stacked heavily against children from non-privileged backgrounds.
They are far less likely to attend the top performing schools, and subsequently often do not receive the support and expertise that allows them to fulfil their academic potential. It is equally true that schools with a disproportionate number of children from poorer homes face an uphill struggle to raise attainment ,against the odds. To get around this, the Sutton Trusts latest report, Worlds Apart social variation among schools, by Professor Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson of the Centre for Education and Employment, University of Buckingham recommends there should be wider introduction of admissions ballots, or random allocation, to decide who gets places in over-subscribed schools, when other selection criteria have been met. At the same time, the report recommends that successful schools should be allowed more freedom to expand where possible. Crucially, any newly created schools should automatically adopt ballots as a tiebreaker for oversubscribed school places. The authors however remain unconvinced that either the current admissions code, or ‘supply-side’ reforms (ie free schools) to create a new cadre of independently run state schools will provide the solution. Politicians often oppose the use of ballots arguing that no child’s education should be decided by the roll of a dice. But deployed alongside other selection criteria, ballots are, they say, the fairest way of deciding school places in over-subscribed schools. There has to be some way of choosing which pupils are admitted, and ballots offer the same chances to all children irrespective of their background. The research uses a new powerful indicator of deprivation – based on the numbers of children on income benefits in a particular postcode – which has for the first time been mapped onto the pupil intakes of state schools in England.
Considering the 100 most socially selective comprehensive schools in England, for example, the analysis reveals that on average 8.6% of children are from income deprived homes – despite being situated in localities where 20.1% of children are income deprived. The inescapable conclusion as the media has pointed out is that our best comprehensives are selective. So no surprise there then.
So the only way to address such stark social segregation in our school system is to give poorer parents a better chance of gaining a coveted place in a good school – which might be possible with the wider introduction of ballots, or random allocation. Some six years ago a Social Market Foundation report (School Admissions: A Report of the Social Market Foundation Commission 2004) made very similar proposals, equally persuasively.