Edinburgh politicians give cool reception to ‘random ballot’ plan for school catchment areas

AN education think tank has proposed reform of the catchment area system, including random ballots for school places, in a bid to beat social segregation.
Random ballots are included in the proposals.Random ballots are included in the proposals.
Random ballots are included in the proposals.

But the ideas from the Sutton Trust got a cool reception from city politicians in the Capital.

The trust said Scotland’s top-performing state schools took half as many disadvantaged pupils as the national average and middle-class parents often deliberately moved into these schools’ catchment areas.

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Last year research claimed parents wanting to move into the catchment area for James Gillespie’s High School faced paying a premium of £173,783 for a house, while homes in the Boroughmuir High catchment cost £137,801 extra.

The trust suggested there should be “inner” catchment areas to guarantee places for children living close to the school, then a larger “outer” catchment area where places would be allocated by ballot.

Such a system would allow more equal access to the best schools and reduce the incentive for parents to buy houses in the catchment area, the trust argued.

City education convener Ian Perry said he was committed to a comprehensive education in the Capital.

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He said: “There are undoubted benefits to having children from different backgrounds going to the same school so their individual skills and talents are stretched in order they reach their potential. Creating a social mix has a positive educational benefit.

“But I’m not convinced that random ballots are the answer as parents want certainty on which school their child will attend.”

Conservative education spokesman Callum Laidlaw said schools should be at the heart of their community and widening the catchment area would make that more difficult.

“I think in Edinburgh, with maybe a couple of exceptions, most of our city schools are fairly mixed and represent their community.

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“We have schools that are outstanding and some schools that could do with improving, but I don’t think that is necessarily a reflection in the demographics.

“One of the dangers of catchment by ballot would be it would take away the role of the high school being at the heart of the community.”

And Green councillor Mary Campbell said she did not accept the starting point of the proposal. “A lot of the so-called research linking house prices to school catchment areas is little more than commercial companies trying to talk up the market.

“Scotland does need to give top priority to reducing the educational attainment gap. We need to be working in communities and with families to make sure children are being given the environment they need to thrive. We need to be giving early years, nurseries, and schools the money and other resources they need to do the best they can for the students they have, according to their individual needs. That’s going to produce better results than adding even more complexity to an already complex system for allocating school places.”

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