Why catchment areas give the illusion of choice

If you have a child in Y6 then you're probably going through one of the most stressful times of their school life: the battle for a place at a decent secondary. Suddenly parents you've known for years will become slightly shifty whenever the conversation turns to 'which schools have you put down?' and getting your hands on a full set of practice papers requires skill and cunning. (And if they're trying for a place at a grammar or private school, their offspring will be being tutored to within an inch of their lives.)

There's been a lot of talk this week (mostly from politicians who probably send their kids to the best private schools anyway) about punishing parents who lie about where they live to win school places. This kind of thing is particularly rife in our borough, where despite the rapidly growing population there hasn't been a decent non-faith state school built for over 18 years (but countless luxury flats, many still unsold). Not surprisingly competition for places is fierce. I know of parents who have swapped houses, and others who have rented to be within the catchment area (0.5miles!) of the best comprehensive school.

The point is that catchment areas create the illusion of choice where there isn't one, because some parents always know how to play the system and those who can afford to move closer to the school will always do so, pushing the prices up and forcing the less well off out.

In my opinion, all kids leaving primary school should have the option of a place at a fantastic secondary school within reasonable walking distance of their home and without having to pass an academic exam to get into it.

Prosecuting parents who lie about where they live because they want the best for their children isn't going to solve the problem. Building new schools will.

written by Liz Jarvis