INDEPENDENT NEWS

Let The Poor Choose Too

Published: Fri 10 Oct 2003 08:16 AM
Let The Poor Choose Too
Deborah Coddington's excellent book resulting from her Cambridge study, ' Let Parents Choose ' could equally be entitled "Let the Poor Choose too" said Joy Quigley, Executive Director, Independent Schools of New Zealand (ISNZ).
Ms Coddington correctly points out that New Zealand does have some excellent results in certain areas of education, notably where there is a positive fusion of two factors - the commitment of at least one parent to the child's success in education and a school that is highly responsive to the needs of all its pupils. The latter predominately occurs in New Zealand in higher socio-economic areas where parents have exercised their choice of schooling. They have done that either through purchasing or renting a home in a preferred school zone, or paying tuition fees as well as taxes to access an independent school.
The serious commitment of at least one parent to the child's education is seriously undermined if the local school does not suit their child, and if the family does not have any choice. And that is what happens too often in lower socio economic areas in New Zealand said Ms Quigley. No matter how committed a parent might be to their child's success, they are hard-pressed to compete against peer pressure and low expectations held by any teacher at their neighbourhood school.
But Ms Coddington work shows from experience in the Netherlands, Sweden and several US States, where most, if not all, parents have a greater ability to choose the school that best suits their child, the outcome is much more positive for poorer children. And this translates into those children having more successful adult lives.
Not every school suits every local child. There should be an option for poor children as well as those from better off families to exercise choice in where they go to school. Scholarships are certainly one answer. Ms Coddington argues that if the money were to follow the child then some schools may close, while others would open, but surely wasting some buildings is better than wasting the lives of a group of children by condemning them to an inferior education in a badly performing school.
"Let Parents Chose" is a very useful addition to the debate on school choice and should be made widely available in every Citizens Advice Bureau and community health and law centre said Ms Quigley. People on lower incomes will rightly ask "Why shouldn't we also have some choice when it comes to getting the best deal to educate our children?".

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