Gina Davidson: School’s quality counts not area

Parents have been warned they are increasingly unlikely to get their children into out of catchment schools. Picture: PA
Parents have been warned they are increasingly unlikely to get their children into out of catchment schools. Picture: PA
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AS someone who benefited from the Thatcher government’s introduction of parental choice when it came to schools, it sits uncomfortably to now deride the idea.

But the policy has led, in Edinburgh at least, to the current outcome where hundreds of parents, who don’t want to send their children to their local school for whatever reason, probably most academic and according to league tables, have their out-of-catchment pupil placement requests refused and therefore their choice ­removed.

Yet this is ultimately where such a policy of choice, combined with pitching primaries and secondaries against each other, would always lead – to some “good” schools becoming massively over-subscribed while others were left to languish, see their rolls drop and ultimately be closed. Which in turn, of course, puts added pressure on the remaining schools and a crisis of accommodation for them.

Right now no political party is proposing abolishing the idea that parents should be able to choose their child’s school rather than the old-skool idea that the nearest one to your home should be the school of choice. The idea that choice should be removed is anathema in a society where personal preference rules and we all should be continually aspirational educationally, professionally, materially to improve our lot in life. As long as you are educationally and economically active enough to be able to do this of course.

So why not then increase parental choice? Why not go with the idea of free schools, currently coalition government policy in England and Wales, which give parents the chance to establish their own schools with the money going direct to them from the Treasury? Why not scrap all catchment areas and extend the LibDems pupil premium concept, with education money following the child to the school of parents’ choice, be it state, private or “free”?

Why not? Because for one, only the Scottish Tories are backing such a plan which makes it as popular as the bedroom tax, and secondly the reality doesn’t reflect the ideology.

Rather than increasing choice for all, it would still only do so for those motivated parents who are already the ones asking for out of placement requests. And ultimately there’s a deep-rooted belief among the vast majority that state education, comprehensive education, should work.

So if not more choice, the answer is surely less. Something needs to be done to make sure that the vast legal expense gone through by parents and councils every year in the pupil placement battle, is stopped. Remove the element of choice and children will attend their local schools. That seems obvious, but at the same time local authorities have to ensure the same level of good quality education is offered at all schools. That is where policy should be directed, and the new Curriculum for Excellence may well deliver, especially given it’s focus on parental input.

Study after study has proved that it’s parental involvement, regardless of income, which impacts the most on children’s education. Parental encouragement in the home counts for more than which school you attend. Imagine what the encouragement of those parents really interested in education could do at schools which are at the moment not considered “good”. And of course, such a move would remove the need for expensive extensions at “popular” schools, would put schools back at the heart of communities, curtail the mad housing market which exists around over-subscribed schools and help the environment by reducing the school run.

Of course there will always be parents who would rather educate privately. Good luck to them. But the state sector should not be left to be skewed by the middle-classes who can’t afford private, but who turn their nose up at schools where there’s a high take-up of free school meals.

What really needs to be tackled is how much we all value education, not where that education is given.

GTCS wrong to go public with Holden case

IF you have never stood before a class of 30 primary kids, 60 eyes fixed on you full of curiosity or hostility depending on the age, I can tell you it’s pretty daunting. I’ve only done it once, but the forensic questioning I was put through about journalism would put a House of Commons committee to shame.

It gave me a whole new respect for teachers. Which is why I was saddened at the story of Jan Holden, pictured above, and her short career at Dirleton Primary school.

She did the right thing by resigning her post as she couldn’t cope with the work because of an illness. She even went so far as to ask to be removed from the professional register of the General Teaching Council of Scotland because she knew her career was over thanks to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

And yet she was still put through an investigation by the GTCS and officially struck off while her list of failures in class were made public.

It’s rare these days to find anyone able to admit to getting it wrong and resigning from their jobs, but Jan Holden did so. And while it’s probably regulation that her work be investigated by the GTCS, doing it so publicly is unlikely to have helped her illness.

Hopefully now she can move on with her life – and the children she admittedly failed are able to achieve their goals in the hands of a new teacher.

Could Selfridges store be on its way?

JENNERS and Harvey Nichols have been rivals for Edinburgh’s upmarket clientele since the latter arrived on St Andrew Square some 12 years ago. However, since its takeover by House of Fraser, Jenners has seen its supremacy as the city’s luxury department store slump as its reputation for old-fashioned service disappeared and its stock became ho-hum.

Now, though, after a takeover of the House of Fraser group by conglomerate Sanpower Jenners major shareholder will be Chinese, opening up a new Asian market to House of Fraser.

The question seems to be, though, will Sanpower want to retain both Jenners and Frasers? If Harvey Nichols is anything to go by, heritage will count, and Jenners could well get major investment and return to its exclusive roots – which may leave a vacant site at the West End of Princes Street, and an opening for Selfridges?