‘Bewildering’ school choice is marginalising weaker parents, academy boss warns

A “bewildering” level of choice in England’s education system is marginalising “weaker” parents, the boss of a prominent academy trust has warned.

Toby Salt, the chief executive of Ormiston Academies, told the Sutton Trust’s summit in London today that structural change had happened “very quickly” and resulted in a complicated system which risked putting some parents off making the right choice of school for their children.

Mr Salt said parents were being asked to choose between university technical colleges, free schools, independent schools, academies, studio schools and other specialist provision, and that it was “assumed” they were in a position to make that choice.

He said: “We know, as the Runnymede Trust over 10 years ago pointed out, that the rhetoric of choice actually can sometimes not achieve that, because it’s too bewildering.

“The very parents that we want to make positive choices either choose not to or find the information difficult and don’t have the motivation to make that choice. We hear in the press about sharp-elbowed, middle-class parents, but the reality is the social and cultural capital of the middle classes can marginalise the weaker parents.”

His comments follow the revelation in a University of Cambridge study for the Sutton Trust that experienced teachers were more likely to work in schools with advantaged pupils, leaving more deprived schools with less qualified staff.

The Cambridge study, published today, found teachers in the top fifth of advantaged schools – sorted by free school meal data – had an average of nearly one and a half years more experience than those in the least advantaged quintile.

Mr Salt, who called the report “timely”, warning that government policies, accountability framework, systems and funding rules did not always “make it easy” to get the best teachers into areas of greatest need.

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