Schools admissions lottery ‘fairest’

By Alex Stevenson

A senior MP has called for “transparency and fairness” after Ed Balls yesterday cast doubt on the future of the government’s school admissions policy.

Yesterday the schools secretary announced plans to review government advice to local authorities, which backs “random allocation” of school places in areas where some schools are oversubscribed.

Mr Balls said he would be “very concerned” if lotteries were not occurring as a last resort. Today parents up and down the country receive the result of whether or not their child has got into their preferred school.

“I have sympathy with the view that a lottery system can feel arbitrary, random and hard to explain to children in years five and six who don’t know what’s going to happen and don’t know which children in their class they’re going to be going on to secondary school with,” he said.

But Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons’ children, schools and families committee, told politics.co.uk: “The ballot school system is the only totally fair way of doing it.”

Lotteries had been introduced in a bid to undermine the unfair option many middle-class families have of buying a home within the desired catchment area.

“Knowledge is power. There’s no doubt some people understand the system, and know how to operate in it,” Mr Sheerman commented.

Improvements to the admissions process, in part the result of recommendations made by the schools committee, have recently been introduced, including a strengthening of the admissions code.

And Mr Sheerman said he believed the government may wait to see whether the newly reinforced process will help reduce the problem before moving against the lotteries.

He finished: “The watchword is for fairness and transparency. You can’t please all of the parents all of the time – there will always be some competition and choice.”

The government introduced its new guidance for admissions, which stated that “random allocation of school places can be good practice”, last month.