Stretching the definition of ‘selection’

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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.

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5 Comments on “Stretching the definition of ‘selection’”

  1. Mr Learnwell says:

    Exclusion figures only tell a part story. I know anecdotally of many schools (including ones I have worked with) that make families feel so unwelcome they leave of their own accord. If there was such a thing as ‘constructive dismissal’ in school admissions, there would likely be many law suits.

    • gregashman says:

      *If* that happens then it’s wrong. But it is a very strong allegation and it should not be levelled at schools without evidence.

    • Mitch says:

      That’s absolutely correct, Mr Learnwell. Very few students are expelled in Australia’s private schools but plenty are told that “they no longer have a place here” or “we don’t think this is the school for you”. Goes down in the stats as the family choosing to leave.

      I agree with you Greg that it is not the traditional ‘selective’ school but it is hardly a comprehensive with a local intake area that they have to accept from either. It is semi-selective because the students do CHOOSE to go there and this means that a) the family is supportive of the approach of the school and b) they know if they don’t like it there, they can always leave (something you can’t always do if it is your local school and you are from a disadvantaged background).

      All that said I did read the blog from yesterday that you are referring to and I don’t think it makes a good case. Accepting behaviour cannot possibly improve behaviour. I hardly think even the strictest schools in the world are threatening expulsion from minor infractions and would instead be trying to highlight the problem behaviour and what is expected from them instead ie. a learning experience.

  2. […] for parental support, it is selective in its admissions. This has been identified by Greg Ashman here as a trend which is emerging about criticism of Michaela. I would simply say that it seems rather […]


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