The latest review of Labour's 'failing schools'policy will, undoubtedly, raise the difficult issue of school admissions. Britain, or rather England, remains almost unique amongst OECD countries in the degree to which the allocation of a secondary school place determines a child's future life chances. That's why school 'choices', rather than house prices, now dominate the discussion at Islington dinner tables. The angst of middle class parents, as their children reach the age of secondary transfer, is reaching epidemic proportions. The pressure put on their children is indescribable. And every year children from many of the nation's poorest households, are routinely allocated to schools which parents with higher aspirations are determined to avoid. This is because secondary school admission policies remain the secret scandal of our education system. Trapped by the rhetoric of parental choice, locked in by a tabloid league table agenda of what constitutes a `good' school and unwilling to confront the evidence about selective admissions policies, ministers are still allowing admissions policy to drift in a direction that works against every other strand of government policy.
Current secondary school admissions policies institutionalise inequality. They intensify social, cultural and ethnic divisions. They foster delusions about consumer choice and reinforce outdated perceptions of quality in education. They have produced an educational apartheid that creates vast ghettoes of under achievement which then suck in vast amounts of public money to compensate for structural inequality. They hold back overall levels of achievement. Our divisive secondary school system is working against our objective of increasing post-16 staying on rates and widening participation in universities.The Code of Practice on School Admissions already excludes selection by ability as an admission criteria to all primary schools. This should be extended to include secondary schools. A policy focused on parental choice would throw open hundreds of thousands of places in good schools to parents who have previously been excluded from applying. The winners would far outnumber those who would be anxious about loss of privilege.