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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 17:51 GMT
Trusts to 'worsen' school choice
Professor John Coldron
Professor Coldron believes ministers need to tackle 'social selection'
The creation of many "trust" schools will only worsen most parents' experience of choosing a secondary school, an education expert has said.

The new education bill encourages schools to be run by outside trusts, which will control admissions.

Professor John Coldron from Sheffield Hallam University says they will not tackle social selection in schools.

His research in 2000, quoted by the government, suggested 85% of pupils got the secondary school they wanted.

'More complex'

Professor Coldron said the education bill published on Tuesday would make the system more diverse, but more complex for parents and less co-ordinated.

"In my judgement it will make the system worse if schools take up trust status," he said.

Trust schools would provide an opportunity for businesses, faith groups or other successful schools to form trusts and run schools autonomously, controlling their own admissions criteria and assets.

The local authority would be given a "commissioner" role, overseeing local provision rather than running schools.

The response from schools to the idea of becoming trusts has so far been lukewarm - but it is expected to be one option for under-performing schools which will be given one year to improve.

Choice and preference

Professor Coldron said his survey, conducted in 2000 and involving 2,300 parents in England, was the only national representative sample taken of parents' views.

It is still quoted by the Department for Education and Skills as an illustration of how well the system works.

But he believes the situation may well have changed over the last few years as some schools, such as foundation schools, have taken on more autonomy.

His research - conducted with the Office for National Statistics - found that 92% of parents did obtain a place for their child at their first choice school.

However, the figure for those who obtained a place at their most preferred school was 85%.

This suggests some parents were strategically selecting a school they felt their child had more chance of getting into, even though it was not the one they really wanted.

It also suggests that a proportionately small number of over-subscribed schools may lie at the heart of the current controversy over admissions and parental choice, since all parents are assigned their first choice school if it has available places.

The government says its proposals will drive up standards in schools by giving outside direction and support to schools which are under-performing. The result will be more good schools and thus more parental choice.

But critics, including many Labour backbenchers, say they increase the potential for selection and segregation.

'Hierarchy of schools'

In London, where competition for school places is more intense, 70% of parents said they had a place at their most preferred school.

Professor Coldron described a "hierarchy of schools" in every area, with the best comprehensive schools - which socially select by attracting pupils from middle income households - alongside others those parents would not consider.

Professor Coldron said: "I am in favour of measures which would regain a more balanced intake into schools, as social selection by some schools is causing the admissions problems."

He said one way to achieve this would be by banding - where a school sets an admissions test and then admits a proportion of pupils from each band of results.

Another would be to publish a "segregation index" for each school - in effect monitoring the social background of the pupils admitted.

He said his previous research suggested that schools which run their own parental appeals conducted them less well than schools which receive guidance and support from either the local authority or a church diocese.

"This is symptomatic of what happens when you take schools out of their support structure.

"Most schools do appreciate the support of the local education authority.

"Schools need it, so they are not left to drift," he said.

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