Parents fighting for school places is the worst kind of snobbery

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Parents fighting for school places is the worst kind of snobbery


I am now trying to find a school for my daughter. It’s a bit like the TV game show Deal or No Deal: is it luck? choice? or do people need to cheat?

‘Choice’ here is not real choice. It’s choice in the modern political sense. Here, choice means competition.

In London, where I live, there are about 118,000 less places for primary school children than the number of places that we need. So there is more competition than the Dads’ egg-and-spoon race at sports day.

Sadly, instead of finding a solution to this problem, the British Education Minister, Michael Gove, has taken the opportunity to make education more like a free market by starting Free Schools.

This means he is treating schools as businesses. They offer their product to parents; and the parents then make their choice, or “consume”.

But in Sweden, one of the first countries to try the Free School model, the system has been bad for both education and equality.

The problem is that in a competition, some people always fail. In June 2013, JB Education, a chain of money-making schools that educate 10,000 Swedish schoolchildren, collapsed – so many children had no school. A chain of schools is a horrible idea; we have chains of banks, chains of chemists or chains of daisies (flowers) – but not schools.

A Belgian dog-food company bought another chain of Swedish schools. Everyone said the school dinners are horrible but the children sit when teachers tell them to.

Parents are afraid of a system like this that they cannot rely on. The strong competition can make you feel like you have no choice at all. You cannot just choose that your child go to the school at the end of the road. So, what do you do?

The most uncomfortable thing about all this is that it makes people become much more middle class, even people who had strong principles before. I have seen and heard stories of parents who say they are socialist, but make a great effort to get their child a place at a ‘good school’.

The most popular way is to discover God. If the devil had children he’d go to church every second Sunday so that he could get a school place at a religious school.

Another way is to move house. When the school choices start, many people put up ‘to let’ signs on houses and flats near my local school, so people can rent and say they are living near the school, and get a place there. So real local children like my daughter cannot go to that school.

But I’d like to know this: what lesson do these parents think they are teaching their children? They are showing bad values like snobbery and power even before they’ve told the children that Father Christmas doesn’t really exist.

Next time Michael Gove visits a primary school to talk about how we all need be actively involved in education, I hope he proves the point by flushing his own head down the toilet.

Steve Parry is a comedy writer, performer and political activist. He is Welsh and lives in north London. You can contact him on Twitter: @stevejparry

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