Lotteries for teachers not pupils

This blog has already registered the fact that tomorrow, the 3rd of March, is ‘national admissions day’ when parents in England will hear about whether their offspring have been offered a place at the secondary school of their choice. As has already been revealed by the media, more schools are using lotteries to select pupils where there is over-subscription, often as part of a ‘banding’ system, eroding the number of schools merely using distance as a criteria.

Now the whole issue of lotteries for school places was comprehensively discussed by Conall Boyle in his book ‘Lotteries for Education’, published in 2010 by Imprint Academic. In those days, most academies were parts of chains, and local authorities still had responsibility for admissions to the majority of other schools, so the issues raised in my earlier post about unsuccessful lottery entrants were largely dealt with in theory by Boyle.

One notion that he does discuss in the book is whether it might be cheaper and more efficient to assign teachers to schools by lottery, and place pupils at their local schools. He credits The Guardian article of the 1st April 1998, by Martin Wainwright, who picked up on Boyle’s mention of the idea by a blogger – an early exponent of the art – who had suggested it as a way of saving parents having to shop-around.

Now, where teachers are a scare resource, it might be an interesting way of ensuring some schools don’t hoard say Physics or Mathematics teachers in order to ensure good results throughout their schools. It might also sort out any price competition for these scare resources resulting from the abolition of national pay scales, and the introduction of a market derived free-for-all in wages.

To achieve this end would require a radical ditching of the philosophy of parental choice, and the unfettered use of markets, and the introduction of the notion of a national teaching stock. Is this something already being considered by parts of the DfE since it is not a million miles away from David Laws idea of national leaders of education assignable to particular schools, although he is looking to place these leaders in failing schools rather than randomly.

Taking the concept further might be too radical a step at present, but there does need to be a discussion about the national requirement for higher quality education, and the current use of the market to allocate teaching resources, especially if the winners are teachers able to enhance their earnings because of their scarcity even though they were content to enter teaching and work for a national wage. Allocating teachers by lottery would also be against the philosophy behind the School Direct training route, where schools are encouraged to train and recruit staff. School Direct doesn’t overcome the issue of the allocation of new teachers unless all schools are involved. Even then it may just move the problem to the selection stage from the current end of training job market.

If the emphasis is switching from allowing parents to choose schools to a desire either to create a fairer system or better still to raise the standard of schooling across the country, there is certainly a need to discuss how teachers are distributed through the system. Might a lottery be the answer?

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