In the UK, prices of family-sized homes are closely linked to the Ofsted rating of local schools. This leads to segregation based on ability to pay. As people who are in favour of private schools have told me, this means that any arguments I make against paying for education are a bit hypocritical.
My kids have had a much better schooling and in a safer area than I grew up in. Every parent wants this for their children. But by segregating schooling based on income, we turn it into a game that middle class parents play to win.
So what’s being proposed in Brighton is huge: essentially de-coupling house prices from school admissions. I hope that it takes off, and it becomes the norm. It takes a while to see and feel the class system in England in particular. But once you do, you can’t avoid the systemic injustice of it all.
As any estate agent knows, a school judged outstanding by Ofsted will push up neighbouring property prices. This is a cruel system that drives families who can afford it to uproot themselves, makes many of those who cannot feel inadequate, and produces and intensifies social segregation.
Few would dispute this account. Not the government, which has published papers on the link between house prices and schools, nor academics or analysts: just last week the Sutton Trust published findings showing that 155 comprehensives, supposedly open to all, are more socially selective than a typical grammar. In Scotland, home addresses are assigned one secondary school so that, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out, social segregation there is even more marked.
Rarely does any of this feature in the discussion around raising school standards. Ministers and policy experts talk about Sats, school curricula, inspections – rather than bringing down the invisible barriers that go up for children as early as five. Which is why Brighton and Hove is worth watching. On Monday, its Labour-led council will vote to change secondary school admissions. Councillors propose to make local authority secondaries give priority to children on free school meals over pupils from the catchment area. Observers believe that Brighton and Hove will be the first council ever to do this. The move is an attempt to reduce inequality within a highly unequal city, to mix up school populations, and to give pupils access to sought‑after schools. For a city that prides itself on being progressive and inclusive, this is a big step towards living those values.
Image: CC BY-ND Visual Thinkery