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March 01, 2007


Tom Freeman

"even small steps towards equal opportunity will be greatly resented by some people"

I think any such lottery plan is going to be unpopular with a lot of people, even if the number of applicants missing their first choice is unchanged.

It's the overconfidence effect: we all know that we're better drivers than average, more attractive than average, better in bed than average, taller than average, more popular than average and so on (I certainly am).

We're also all better at playing the school admissions system than average. In a system where an oversubscribed school picks children, we like to think that we can subtly and deftly influence the decision in our favour. But a lottery takes this out of our hands, replacing our (above average) control over the situation with a random element.

And that's a fearful prospect.

Peter Briffa

A lot of us who are positively hostile to equality of opportunity aren't too pleased either.


"it doesn’t go far enough"

So how far should it go then? What would greater 'equality of opportunity' look like? Assuming you favour a voucher system of some sort, how does the system cope with over-subscription to schools - other than allowing the oversubscribed schools to simply expand?


Why doesn't the scheme extend to deal with the really big inequality, the international one? Lucky you, young girl, you're going to be sent to a state school in Nigeria. Or Burma. Or N Korea. Or Saudi.


Brighton council probably doesn't have that much sway over Burmese education policy, that's my guess.


Scratch: outrageous. Get Toni to send the bombers in. Or more seriously: who, commenting on this blog, is really prepared to surrender the advantages they have gained fom being born, or brought up, in the First World? It's the biggest inherited advantage we get. Who is prepared to give it up in the name of equality? Don't all rush now.


Dearieme: a standing validation that the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity are accurate, nonobvious, and nontrivial.


I would.

In exchange for a guarantee that no-one or no group would be in a position to oppress me economically or otherwise.

It's not like there isn't enough wealth to go round.


Lotery is idiotic. It is not about equality of opportunity in the current system.

Willets was right, it is about improving standards to give everyone a decent level of education.

This lottery is a way to try and ensure no one can be sure of getting a good education? How is that a progressive policy???

Mike Baldwin

Four points:
1 If you are born into a bad family you are pretty much screwed anyway we would be better off not subsidising the prociation habits of such famililies
2 It is the presence of children from bad families that are the major influence on schools being poor
3 Give people choice through vouchers let bad schools die and good prosper
4 Bollocks to equality


This strikes me as an absolutely ludicrous decision which completely fails to look at the root of the problem.

Are these 'less good' schools rubbish because the majority of students come from poor families? If so that suggests that the children of richer parents are 'better' somehow. This surely is a daft proposition. Parent's richness has nothing to do with the academic capability of a child.

The root of the problem is that the rubbish schools should be made better. This should be achievable without mixing in kids from richer parents... People shouldn't have a choice, they should go to the school closest to them with space. They shouldn't have to try to choose to take their children to a different school because another school is 'better' - ALL schools should be good enough. Ones which aren't should be fixed. Simple.

This decision WILL definitely result in a lot of extra man-miles on the road. I thought that global warming was the most dire thing threatening our very way of life?

Mike Baldwin

Are these 'less good' schools rubbish because the majority of students come from poor families? If so that suggests that the children of richer parents are 'better' somehow. This surely is a daft proposition. Parent's richness has nothing to do with the academic capability of a child.

Yes and

Yes they are, both through nature and nurture


There is a distinction between "bad" families, where parents don't really care about their children's education or behaviour and "poor" families where the parents just don't have much money.

There might be a slight bias towards bad families tending to be poor, but it's by no means a perfect correlation - there are any number of wealthy parents who don't really give a toss (apart from, maybe, the snob value of being in a "good" school).

I don't care very much whether my child goes to school with children from mostly rich families or mostly poor families, but I will do anything I can to ensure that his peers are those who have parents who are involved and interested, rather than those who treat school as a glorified babysitter.

Is that "fair"? Probably not, but I don't really have any interest in being "fair" about my child's future - I'll do the best for him that I can.

Chris Williams

Sam, would you (say) kill someone so as to give your kid their property? Mug them? Firebomb your neighbours? I don't think I'd do any of these things for my kids, love them as I do.

In fact, being as I was raised by puritans, part of me actually feels that I'll be doing my kids a favour if they come of age and have to succeed or fail on the basis of their own effort, not some massive advantage I've purchased for them. So long as they learn to read and get vaguely socialised at school, I'm reasonably confident that they'll be able to sort themselves out.

"It's for my kids" often seems to be played as a conversational trump card which the player expects to end the argument. It shouldn't. Other considerations apply also.


"Yes and"

"Yes they are, both through nature and nurture"

Sorry I think thats a load of b****cks!

Please show me (a link to) empirical evidence that the children of poor people are less academically /capable/ than children of rich parents!

If their offspring are proved to be this thick then perhaps poor people should not be allowed to have children at all?

Sam H

Surely points 2 and 4 are contradictory, how can you be doubly disadvantaged by going to a bad school if the data says it makes no difference whether you are at a good or a bad school.

zorro, generally people with a lower income are less intelligent than people with a higher income, most people agree
that aspects of intelligence are genetic, so on average, the children from high income families will be more intelligent than children of low income families.

Compare a low income child with a high income child, which one is more likely to get piano lessons? Which one will read/get read to the most? Which one will be exposed to crime and drugs from an early age? The fate of a low income child is pretty much decided, unless the parents are exceptional.

A link for the relationship between genetics and intelligence.

Mark Wadsworth

I can't help thinking that this whole lottery debate is a way of evading the topic of why there are so few good schools in teh first place.

Why can't we just have more good schools in poor areas? Wouldn't that be better for everybody? Why can't every school be a good school? Why are bad schools bad and good schools good.

Yes, it is quite clear that house prices are higher in the catchment area of a good school, but this is an argument for Land Value Tax as much as anything.

But why are good schools good in the first place?


Zorro, that is exactly the case.

Hanushek has found that the inputs to schooling (class size, spend per child, teacher salary etc.) only give very, very slights benefits if it all.

Hanushek, E. A., (2003). The failure of Input-based Schooling Policies, The Economic Journal 113,

IMO the general body of opinion is that better schools are better because of their inputs (the resources and teachers are obviously important and not a static input but..) the typically wealthier parents are able to provide a better home environment to work in, and can afford to pay for extra tutoring etc...

Fernández, R. (2000): Sorting, Education and Inequality. NBER WP8101
De Fraja, G. (2004): Education and Redistribution.
Benabou, R. (1993): "Workings of a city: location, education and production". Quarterly Journal of Economics, 108(3), pp. 619-652.
Benabou, R. (1996): "Heterogeneity, segregation and growth". American Economic Review, 86, pp. 584-609.
Durlauf, S. N. (1996): "A theory of persistent income inequality". Journal of Economic Growth, 1(1), pp. 75---94.


Oh good, the rise of New Eugenics. I don't suppose anyone would care to comment on the efficacy of "intelligence tests" actually testing "intelligence". Anyone care to come up with an acceptable definition of "intelligence" while we're at it? Or the effects of (shock!) a good education on your ability to get good marks in an "intelligence test". Or being able to practise at it?


"have less time available to spend on extracurricular personal development.

Woah, Chris, what's that hippy nonsense? What they'll have is less time to do their homework, which is curricular.

Where practicable, the government should fund the expansion of good schools and over time, allow the crap ones to wither away. That won't solve the primary problem of bad parenting (nothing the government can do will) but schools should be certainly be competitive with each other. Mind you, I'd do mostly do away with the LEAs and let schools apportion their money directly (to some extent, bring back the GM schools). I worked in three LEAs (two in home counties, one in London) and they were all useless. Discussion with fellow teachers doesn't suggest that other LEAs do a great deal more than skim the money to do busywork, either. All anecdotal, of course.

Sam H

The pdf by Steve Levitt Chris highlights that the quality of the school is irrelevant, the thing that makes a big difference is the quality of the parents. The lottery will be a waste of money because the important things are already fixed, a lottery for potential parents might be a better idea.


I thought we had one already...

I think a lot of the objections are due to the fact that the lottery makes it harder to have any influence over what happens to your child.

People like to have some control over vital aspects of their enviroment (and their childrens), and making decisions by lottery reduces the influence they can expect to have.


"It doesn’t do enough to offset familial disadvantage."

I'm sorry, but in what way would coercion by the state to "offset familial disadvantage" NOT be social engineering?

I tend to agree with Mark Wadsworth. This whole charade simply covers up for the fact that there is a massive disparity in the "quality" of schools in the area and does nothing either to address that or to help anyone understand why that might be.

It is also classic left-wingery. Anyone who takes responsibility for their own life and children and as a result attempts to the best for their own children is being penalised.

This is arse about face: this kind of behaviour should be incentivised: we WANT parents to do the best for their own children rather than shrugging and meekly accepting the beneficence of the state.


I'm fed up with hearing that the lottery is fair. It is unbiased, but it isn't fair.

The enitre education debate sees the school as the unit of education. Why not the individual teacher? Or group together schools to give benefits across schools?

And people who have made sacrifices to get their children good schools have been punished.


so yes Cleanthes. And yes Katherine - spot on.

Back in the 70's when Labour was Socialist, there was debate about what should be done by feckless parents who neglected their children and didn't value education, and how the state should act as parent. Despite Thatcherism and the apparent death of left-wing politics, here we are again with the same debate.


and as for that link on genetics and "intelligence" : "A variety of sophisticated brain-mapping approaches relating genetic influences on brain structure and intelligence establishes a regional distribution for this relationship that is consistent with behavioral studies."

They didn't measure the size of peoples heads whilst they were at it did they?

law of attraction program

That was a really good post. It helped me to make sense of some of the issues with the subject. There is another good blog on the same topic that I was reading a while ago.

Law of attraction

There are times that I clamber with wrapping my head around topics like this,

thank you for adding it up substantially.

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