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Report puts children from deprived backgrounds ahead of middle class- Herald

Andrew Denholm, The Herald, 30 January 2009

Children from deprived backgrounds should be given access to the best state schools ahead of middle-class rivals in an attempt to improve Scotland\’s education system, according to a new report from a Scottish think tank.

The controversial proposals from Reform Scotland are part of a wider plan to give all parents more freedom over where they send their children to school, outlined in a report Parent Power, published today.

The ultimate aim of the scheme is to give all families a financial "entitlement" equivalent to the cost of educating their child – currently between £4000 and £10,000 – which could be used at any school in the area, as long as it was not already full.

Reform Scotland, an independent free-market think tank, believes that if parents exercise their choice more freely, under-performing state schools would be deserted by parents and would be either forced to close or improve.

The organisation also believes the strategy would encourage new, state-funded independently run schools to be set up by parents – similar to Jordanhill in Glasgow – which would act as "healthy competition" for local authority-run schools. However, the organisation believes local authorities should continue to run most schools.

The first step towards the scheme, which is modelled on the Swedish system, would be to grant the "entitlement" to low-income families, allowing them places in popular state schools ahead of other children. Geoff Mawdsley, one of the report\’s authors, said the plan was designed to help the most disadvantaged children in Scotland who were currently being failed by the education system and are "falling through the gaps".

"State schools in Scotland vary widely in ethos and performance, depriving poorer children in low-performing schools of choice and leading to inequalities in the system," he said. "This would give parents a greater say in choosing the school they believe will help their child fulfil his or her potential, whether it is a state school in the same area, a state school on the other side of town or an independently-run state-funded school.

"We want to see an education system that extends opportunity and promotes social mobility. This is not something that can happen overnight, but what we are putting forward is a long-term strategy that will benefit countless numbers of children."

The report also recommended that local authorities should be given responsibility for the pay and conditions of teachers and be able to pass these powers on to schools.

Last night, Ken Macintosh, Scottish Labour\’s schools spokesman, said: "Reform Scotland should go back to the drawing board. This sounds like attempts by a right-wing think tank to dress up tired old Tory policies like the voucher system and the assisted places scheme, which were discredited for being divisive and giving choice for the few and no choice for the many.

"The cost of this scheme would amount to millions and this would be better spent on improving the quality of education in existing state schools."