The Times carried this report the other day ...
Adam and Luke Bolton are identical twins who do everything together, but this week they were told that not only have they been allocated places in different secondary schools, but also that the schools are 18 miles apart. The news has come as a bombshell. The ten-year-old boys read the same books, play the same computer games and, although they have separate bedrooms, have sleepovers in each other's rooms every weekend.
They have different hobbies — Luke plays piano and is a footballer, Adam prefers reading — but most of the time they stick together. To date their biggest anxiety has been being asked to sit at different tables in their class at Tewin Cowper Primary School, in Hertfordshire.
Their mother, Ann Connolly, said: “When we applied to secondary school we tried to prepare them for the fact that they might be put in different classes. That would be a huge step for them. So for them to find themselves in different schools is very distressing. Twins are not like other children. They have a total reliance on each other to be their primary friend and they look to each other in stressful situations.”
Adam and Luke are a living example of a problem highlighted this week by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary. Hertfordshire is one of 25 local authorities that use a lottery system to allocate places in oversubscribed schools. The aim of the lottery is to make school admissions fairer and prevent middle-class parents from playing the system by buying or renting homes close to the best schools.
Ms Connolly believes that the thinking behind the system is muddled. "It makes it impossible to make a rational choice of school because you can have no idea in advance what will be your chances of getting in,” she said.
“I asked the local authority if they could allocate places to two children together via the lottery process but they said that would bias its random nature and so couldn't be allowed. It is ludicrous.”
Mr Balls agrees and has asked the Schools Adjudicator to look at the issue of twins being split in lottery-based systems. “I am asking the Schools Adjudicator to look at how we can make crystal clear in guidance and in the [School Admissions] Code that splitting up twins when parents don't want them to be split is the wrong thing to do,” Mr Balls said.
Luke was allocated a place at the twins' first choice, Richard Hale school in Hertford, which is a six-mile (9km) bus ride from the Bolton home, while Adam was given a place at their second choice, Verulam School in St Albans, which is 12 miles from the house in the opposite direction and an hour away by train and bus.
Ms Connolly, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, said: “All I can do is put Adam on the waiting list for Robert Hale and hope that a place becomes available, but it could be months before we hear and in the mean time we just have to sit and wait.”
What is particularly frustrating to her is that now that one twin has been allocated a place at the Robert Hale, the family can take advantage of the school's sibling rule to get the other one in. This effectively means that Adam will be higher up on the waiting list than he otherwise would be. Ms Connolly said that it was bizarre that the boys counted as siblings only after the first round of applications but not when they first applied.
It is, of course, quite outrageous that in a relatively densely populated area like Hertfordshire any child should have to travel twelve miles to school.
Note that "The aim of the lottery is to make school admissions fairer and prevent middle-class parents from playing the system by buying or renting homes close to the best schools". What an extraordinary thing for a reputable newspaper to have to print - that we live in such a nonsensical society that local politicians can seriously describe buying a house as "playing the system". What next? Our choice of clothes is discriminatory because we choose not to walk round Asda in a fluorescent shell-suit? Our haircut is racist because we don't wear dreads? Will the speech police prowl in the High Street and issue spot fines to anyone who doesn't end every sentence with "innit"?
Despite Ed Balls' current misgivings, this "one size fits all" approach starts at government level - pretty rich for a government whose members are adept and shameless in feathering their own nests and scratching the backs of bankers and quangocrats. It has caused local authorities to try and make school admissions “fairer”: what they mean is that in middle-class areas, all the middle-class children go to the local high school and fill it up. That school is therefore successful, and working-class children from the council estate on the other side of town can't go to it. This is unfair, and they are trying to force the middle-class children to go to out-of-catchment schools to ensure a mix.
It would be a great deal fairer, of course, to run all schools effectively (or, rather, to leave head teachers to do it without interference, as the vast majority of them are perfectly capable of deciding what's good for their schools and what isn't) and to fund them properly so that all children get a good education wherever they live. But that would cost money, of course.
The real unfairness is something the government haven't yet addressed – though one wouldn't put it past them to try. The real unfairness is that middle-class parents can afford to buy nice houses in nice areas and all live together in a cosy huddle. Working-class parents can't.
So one awaits with interest the next round of government legislation, when a law will be introduced to (a) put all middle-class people on a government database (which will then be left on a train or sold to double-glazing firms), (b) force them to buy houses they don't want in areas they don't like, and drive elderly cars which they'll have to park in the street, and (c) give working-class people large grants so they can live in nice houses with a garage and a front drive, and buy a nice car.
Now THAT would be fairer, don't you think?
Here's another idea: in the current economic climate, wouldn't it be fairer if everyone who still has a job was forced to pay a large proportion of their salary to the government, so that the government could hand it out in benefits and grants to all the people who don't have a job?
Oh no, wait a minute. Silly me, that already happens. So that's all right then. Very fair.
The GOS says: Of course, these two boys could have the best of both worlds - or the best of both schools, anyway. They can take it in turns to go to both schools - I mean, they're twins, aren't they? What's the point of being twins if you can't, erm, what's the word? ... "play the system"?
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