Selecting schools

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2000, 12:00am

On the eve of the release of a school guide by the Committee on Home-School Co-operation, two Internet startups yesterday separately released the results of two education surveys. One tried to identify the 50 most popular secondary schools among parents, while the other asked parents and students to list the attributes of a good institute.

The marketing focus of the two Web sites underlines a lack of published information on schools. In fact, one popular newspaper has long had great success with its school site, which provides a wide array of information ranging from the mechanics of the school allocation system to what parents could do to place their children in preferred kindergartens and primary and secondary schools.

Unfortunately, in the absence of key data about school performance, these unofficial sites do no more than report public perceptions, which tend to reinforce established views that particular schools are good because they have a long history and tend to attract high-quality students. Significantly, they ignore the social and systemic factors which explain why these schools always get these students.

The fact is the present allocation system has built-in biases. First, it categorises prospective secondary students into five bands according to academic performance. Second, Band One students choose where to study first. These provisions ensure that some 'famous' schools always get the best recruits. No matter that their teachers may not be especially innovative or hardworking, their students will always shine simply because they are more gifted.

The allocation system's inherent biases have prompted some educators to oppose the school guide's release today. The opposition has a point. But it is not a strong enough argument against publication, which will go some way towards enhancing transparency of the school system.