Stretching the definition of ‘selection’Posted: November 15, 2016
I have noticed the growing trend of calling-out ‘no excuses’ schools like Michaela Community School in London for being ‘selective’.
I was initially very puzzled. These schools have comprehensive intakes. Admittedly, they are often oversubscribed and so sometimes resort to a lottery system to allocate places, but this is down to chance. “Selective,” used to mean schools that would take into account a child’s academic performance as admission criteria. No excuses schools don’t do this. And they don’t charge fees.
Apparently, they have earned the description of ‘selective’ because they have clear rules that they communicate to students and parents. For instance, they set very high behaviour standards. The argument seems to rest on the idea that students who want to misbehave, and who are supported in this by their parents, won’t want to attend the school, making it effectively selective.
I think this is a bit of a stretch. I also think it’s a bit much to allege that these schools weed-out students through exclusion – the evidence I have seen is that no excuses schools have similar exclusion rates to other schools in the neighbourhood (e.g. here).
If we are going to allow the term ‘selection’ to cover push factors that might deter students from attending schools then I think we would have to allow that quite a few English ‘comprehensive’ schools are selective – given the choice, parents will avoid them and send their children elsewhere, often due to perceptions of poor behaviour or low academic standards. Perhaps that’s acceptable because it is the more affluent, pointy-elbowed parents’ kids that are being selected against rather than disadvantaged kids. But it’s hardly a great dynamic.
Let’s test the selection-by-push-factor idea in a different context. Under this definition, we would have to accept that hospitals select their patients. Every hospital in Britain and Australia has a no-smoking policy and this will deter all those patients who would like to smoke. And these patients are often the ones who need healthcare the most. Men are less likely to visit doctors and therefore be referred to hospital. We also know that violent criminals may choose to not attend a hospital with an injury due to the fact that doctors might report their injuries to the police. Moreover, if patients refuse treatment then they will be excluded from the hospital’s care.
You might challenge this reasoning. Smoking may be banned in hospital but it is also banned in all public places. So perhaps the hospital is just reflecting society rather than actively selecting against certain patients? I seem to remember smoking being banned in hospitals before it was banned more generally but I also note that hitting people and verbally abusing them are banned in society at large and it’s these kinds of behaviours that no excuses schools refuse to accept.
There are plenty of reasons to be sceptical about the ‘no excuses’ model but torturing the definition of ‘selection’ does nothing to advance this cause.