Monday, 9 July 2007

Fair's fair?

Proof that the great Tory attack on poverty to be announced tomorrow by Iain Duncan Smith is so much hot air is provided by the news that plans to support fairer admissions to schools have been excised. There are only two fair ways to allocate state school places where demand exceeds supply, and academic selection is ruled out: banding, where places are allocated to pupils of different abilities after a test, and random ballots, both supported by the School Admissions Code. Ballots - dubbed lotteries here - are actually fairly common in the United States, Scandinavia and New Zealand. Here, many academies use banding to ensure a balanced intake. A key feature of Tony Blair's last schools bill and white paper was the promotion of school transport, choice advisers and fair admissions. Far from rejecting such ideas, any party serious about tackling poverty should be seeking ways to extend them. Of course, the public need to gain a better understanding of how they work - and the number of good schools needs to continue to increase - but the idea that good schools should only be open to those who can afford expensive houses nearby is indefensible. The ball is now in Balls's court.

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