On West Midlands Radio today the issue of 4,000 Birmingham children failing to get their first school preference was discussed and the host, Adrian Goldberg, asked ‘Shouldn’t all schools be excellent?’ Simon Jenkins wrote: “Children should go to their local school, primary and secondary, warts and all. It does not matter how a school is run, but it does matter how the state allots places in what are public institutions . . .“

“I’ve never really understood why choice has to come into schooling, says journalist Ros Dodd, whose own daughter attends the nearest primary school.

Professor Russell Beale in the Post’s science blog last year expanded on that weasel word, ‘choice’: Choice. We hear it from politicians all the time. Whether it’s giving people choice in healthcare or parents a choice in schools, it’s a dangerous perspective. Choice sounds like a good idea. It sounds like something we should all want. But not always.

Actually, we want excellence rather than choice. If schools were all good, then we’d not want to spend ages trying to get our children into some and avoid them going into others. If healthcare was good, we’d not want to chose a different hospital.

Isn’t it time we really went back to basics and used a bit of common sense when it comes to the state education system?

Ros asks several questions: Why doesn’t every child automatically go to the schools nearest to their home? Why aren’t all schools of broadly the same educational standard? Why are there faith schools rather than each school incorporating a religious or spiritual dimension that reflects the beliefs of its pupils? Isn’t it time we really went back to basics and used a bit of common sense when it comes to the state education system?.

She considers the advantages:

  • getting all kids to attend their local primary and secondary school would make a huge difference to the amount of petrol guzzled and the numbers of cars clogging the roads;
  • money and time spent on league tables and all the other competitive activities schools engage in to attract pupils could be spent on ensuring that every school attained a standard level of educational and pastoral competence;
  • the sense of community would be strengthened through all children living within a stone’s throw of the playground. 

All this could be achieved by applying contemporary political localist thinking to the state education system.