Monday, February 23, 2009

British government determined to destroy any good schools in their sector

It takes good pupils to make good schools. Feral children will make any school a sink school. To preserve good education for the able poor, what is needed is a totally different policy: Separating out disruptive pupils and sending them to schools designed to deal with their problems. That's not blue sky. Something similar is already being done under Labor party governments in some parts of Australia. If it keeps on its present course, the British government will simply ensure that only privately-educated kids will be equipped to take leadership positions in Britain -- which is the opposite of what they claim to want

Thousands of children must take part in random lotteries for school places in a Government attempt to break a middle-class stranglehold on the best schools. Schools in a quarter of council areas are allocating places by lottery or "fair banding" – in which the school uses test results to deliberately select a proportion of pupils of poor ability. The move could cause difficulties for affluent families who have dominated successful schools by buying houses within their catchment areas, often paying a premium of tens of thousands of pounds.

Last year, Brighton became the first area to allocate places at all oversubscribed schools through lotteries after Government reforms gave councils and schools the power to do so. The policy is designed to make all state schools truly comprehensive by ensuring they contain pupils of mixed abilities and social backgrounds, rather than being dominated by those who can afford to live nearby.

The Daily Telegraph has found that lotteries and fair banding are in widespread use across the country. At least one of the methods is being used by state secondary schools in a quarter of the 150 council areas with responsibility for education across England. This means that up to 150,000 pupils applying for places this year could effectively have their futures decided "by the roll of a dice". Critics said that the methods amounted to social engineering and threatened misery for many middle-class families. Children can be forced to travel several miles every day after being turned down by their local school.

Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, said the Tories would prevent local authorities from enforcing lotteries in future, calling them an "unsatisfactory" way of assigning places. "The real problem is the lack of good schools," he said. "Far too many parents are denied a chance to educate their children in high quality schools."

Robert McCartney, the head of the National Grammar Schools Association, said: "There is something mildly offensive about a child's future being decided by nothing more than the roll of a dice." Margaret Morrissey, of the campaign group Parents Outloud, said the increasing use of lotteries was evidence that the Government was going back on its pledge to offer parents more choice.

The Daily Telegraph surveyed all 150 councils in England with responsibility for education. Of the 135 that responded, 25 said that some secondary schools in their area were using lotteries to assign places this year, while 22 said some of their schools were using "fair banding" to deal with oversubscription. Some council areas had schools using both methods, meaning that in total 37 councils had schools using at least one of them.

Juliette McCaffrey, a Labour councillor who was removed from Brighton & Hove council committee because of her opposition to lotteries, said they had failed to bring about the cultural diversity that their proponents promised. "If you look at the free meals statistics it didn't change the social make-up of the schools. It didn't benefit the people with lower educational aspirations – all it did was force some middle-class families to send their children to schools miles away."

Approximately 600,000 children are applying for places this September, and will find out in a fortnight if they have a place at their chosen school. Mark Willimott, a senior assistant principal at Brooke Weston Academy in Corby, Northamptonshire, which adopted random allocation last year, said: "It's the only way of giving every child a fair chance. If you are just going to draw a straight line from the school you are going to get the problem of rich parents buying houses on the local estate and sending up house prices."

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that random allocation and fair banding were options open to schools to ensure fair admissions.


University policy goes full circle in Britain

The former polytechnics are to take back much of their previous role of providing adult education and vocational degrees rather than trying to ape leading academic institutions under reforms being drawn up by John Denham, the universities secretary. The change will mark a shift in policy for the government, which for years has tried to promote the research credentials of “new” universities alongside those of traditional institutions. It follows the eruption of “class war” between vice-chancellors this year over how to share 1.5 billion pounds of research funding. Universities created since 1992 claim they are entitled to a far higher share than in the past.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Denham also signalled an easing of Labour attacks on Oxbridge “elitism” long pursued by ministers including Gordon Brown. Denham instead wants to encourage the emergence of an elite including Oxford, Cambridge and a handful of others. These would receive most research funding, although “pockets of excellence” in the post1992 group would also get a fair share. Denham will launch a strategy for higher education this summer and will give indications of its direction in a speech this week.

The concrete changes will include a fresh form of vocational degree. This will be offered mainly by new universities and will benefit teenagers who take specified vocational qualifications rather than A-levels. For example, those serving apprenticeships in hotels and restaurants could earn degrees in hotel management, while those with vocational qualifications in building could study part-time for a degree in construction while working on site. “I want to nurture the different parts of the system,” said Denham. “[For example] research-intensive universities and the ones who do most for part-time and adult education.” He added: “The truth is that a classics degree at a traditional university is not the same as a degree in mining and engineering at another.”

Denham has told friends that a country this size can probably support no more than five to 10 universities as an equivalent to America’s Ivy League. His remarks will come as a relief to leading universities. Labour has been putting them under relentless pressure to increase the proportion of students they admit from poorer backgrounds.

Denham, who attended a comprehensive in Lyme Regis, Dorset, and Southampton University, acknowledged that post1992 institutions must take the lead in bringing more working-class pupils into higher education. “Institutions that take most of the students who would not traditionally have gone to university are in a different position from those that are most research-intensive and selective,” he said. “We are not expecting those places to be the major places for widening participation.” He added: “We can’t expect universities to put right the whole welter of social disadvantage, low aspirations, lack of tradition of going to higher education.” The minister does, however, believe leading universities should put strenuous efforts into encouraging more applications from the 10,000 or so highly able teenagers from poorer families who never even apply “perhaps because nobody inspired them”.

Denham’s approach is likely to anger vice-chancellors of former polytechnics and dozens of other institutions that have been turned into universities in the past 16 years. Last week Malcolm Mc-Vicar, vice-chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire, warned that dividing institutions by role was “outdated” and could “lead to a row that will make the 2005 fees row look like a Sunday afternoon tea party”.


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