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It is exactly a year since I started working for the RSA. I remember because it was the day that thousands of 11 year olds and their families found out what secondary schools the children would be attending in September. This year the debate feels very similar to last year, although there is hope that the advent of the new report cards might end the repetitive round of the annual coverage.

It is exactly a year since I started working for the RSA. I remember because it was the day that thousands of 11 year olds and their families found out what secondary schools the children would be attending in September. This year the debate feels very similar to last year, although there is hope that the advent of the new report cards might end the repetitive round of the annual coverage.

Why should they? Because despite all of the press around school choice, the fairness or unfairness of lotteries, and how to stop middle class parents from monopolising the 'best' schools, there is still very little discussion of the basis on which parents choose schools - or of the kind of information parents are given in order to make these much vaunted choices. Government emphasis on academic attainment as a measure of school success (whether absolute in terms of bench mark GCSE scores, or relative in terms of value added measures) currently implies that parents should be choosing schools based on their position in the league tables. With a linear measure of success leading to a linear hierarchy of schools, the government is shooting itself in the foot when offering parents choice: by definition parents are not all going to be able to get their children into their first choice school if they are making the same decision on a crude single measure.

However, do parents in fact choose the 'best' school in the area in terms of academic performance, or do they tend to go with the closest to home? Does this vary by social group? Do parents visit the schools and determine which one their child would be happiest at, or do they listen to their children to see where their friends/bullies are going? Are choices made on the basis of school ethos, or an inspiring head teacher, or whether the school is an active part of its community?

It would seem from the case studies chosen by the press that many parents are afraid that their children will be 'lost' at the wrong school, get 'crushed' by the rowdy children that attend, not get enough attention for their special requirements or simply fade into the background in a large institution. Their choice of school seems predicated on where they believe their child will be happiest, rather than where they will get most GCSEs.

However, is it not the case that schools with middle class intakes tend to achieve better results? And that league tables as a single measure of school success can often be a rough proxy to the levels of discipline, middle class parents and general 'leafiness' of a school, at least in the popular imagination? Parents concerned for their child's happiness may well give every appearance of choosing a school based on results, for they are given little else to go on.

With more information about schools available, and a different social consensus on what school is for, could we see a movement towards the happiest, most innovative, most welcoming to parents and community, or most creative schools being oversubscribed instead? Or, even better - more balance in what defines 'a good school' leading to more balance in the system, and less of a scramble for schools that are proven to be successful in one sense only?

The new report cards that are being proposed will give a far more balanced view of a schools' performance in academic terms than the current league tables do. The inclusion of the Every Child Matters criteria in Ofsted reporting is another positive step. Let's build on that progress and really send out the right message to parents, which is that schools vary in terms of more than social class and academic output.

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