Friday, March 02, 2007

Lottery ethics in British education


In the UK children are usually admitted to schools subject to their families living in close proximity to a given school. On the face of it this makes sense. After all, you avoid travelling long distances to get to school, etc. The problem begins when you realise that there are huge disparities in terms of school quality. Ever since it has become common practice that rich (well, even middle-class) people buy themselves houses close to desireable schools in order to give their children eventually a competitive advantage over other kids whose parents have to make-do with a not-so-good school.
Enter Tony Blair and his education secretary. The government has decided to do away with these so-called catchment areas and instead has opted that whenever there are more applicants for admission to a particular school there will be a lottery determining which children would be admitted. The result is that all children have an equal shot at getting into a better school, regardless of their parents' wealth. Likely that house prices in former school catchment areas will fall as living in such a catchment area will not increase the likelihood that a kid will get into a better school.
To me all of this makes perfect sense (equality of opportunity is one of the fundamental tenets of justice), but not, of course, to the TELEGRAPH newspaper, a conservative UK broadsheet.
Of course, a different issue altogether is, why there are better and worse schools, and why there are significant disparities to begin with. This, of course, is due to the fact that this country affords itself both private and public schools. Under Blair's reign the number of privately run schools has actually increased.

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