When Tories say school ‘choice’, they mean handouts for rich kids

Don't believe the spin on free schools and grammars


Defending her education priorities yesterday, the Prime Minister used a word that ought to ring alarm bells for the left: ‘Choice’.

At PMQs Theresa May said she wants to ‘increase the number of good school places, so that every child has an opportunity to go to a good school’. She added:

“It includes money for new free schools, which will be faith schools, university schools, comprehensives, grammar schools and maths schools.

There will be a diversity, because what I want is a good school place for every child and for parents to have a choice.” 

She was echoed by Chancellor Philip Hammond, who said in his budget speech:

“We commit to this programme because we understand that choice is the key to excellence in education.”

What Conservatives mean by ‘choice’ here is simply that children’s education should be a sort of marketplace.

And as in all markets, (according to the ‘non-ideological’ marketeers), quality will prevail, and ‘good schools’ will flourish. They are less keen to add the corollary, that supposedly bad schools will perish.

And as with all such theories, they presume a level playing field to start off with, so competition is entirely fair. But of course, that’s no world which has ever existed.

As our friends at Political Scrapbook have noted, children who happen to have been born to parents who are among the wealthiest one per cent of the country have an 80 per cent chance of getting in to Grammar Schools.

And children from poorest families are half as likely than the Richie Riches to get in themselves, as this graph shows:

There’s more. As we reported in December, the Sutton Trust found just 16 per cent of Year 7 pupils at Grammar Schools were from the lowest two of five income brackets – Theresa May’s ‘just about managing’. That’s fewer than half of the 34 per cent from wealthy backgrounds.

An Education Policy Institute report found expanding Grammar Schools would ‘reduce the average attainment of disadvantaged pupils’ in 96 per cent of 152 local authorities, making them ‘unlikely to improve social mobility’.

The Chancellor’s leaf yesterday of paying for school buses for the few poor children who do get into selective schools falls way short of the PM’s commitment to ‘equality of opportunity’.

What sort of ‘choice’ is there when some children are born with a socio-economic head start while others are born at a disadvantage through no fault of their own?

Offering more rewards for unearned privilege while throwing pennies at 25,000 state schools is not ‘choice’, but investment in an education system rigged for the rich.

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: Poor families’ incomes are about to get slammed – but it’s nothing to do with NICs

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