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The issue of parental choice in decisions about their child's schooling has been a key feature of education policy and debate since the 1980s. The Education Act 1980 permitted parents to state a preference for the school which their child would attend; and the Education Act 1988 took this further by requiring schools to comply with parental preference as long as there were places to offer. These two Acts allow parents to express a choice over their child's schooling, even to the extent that the preferred school might be some distance away and in a different local authority from that in which the child lives. The principle of choice was an integral part of the introduction of market competition into the schooling system. By expressing a choice, parents were able to indicate those schools for which there was a market demand, and at the same time provide an incentive to less popular schools to improve their performance in order to be able to compete for pupils. The word ‘choice’ became prominent in educational policy discourse, appearing, for example, in the title of the 1992 White Paper Choice and Diversity. In September 1995 the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, was quoted as saying, ‘We must emphasise the words that people find attractive, such as standards, discipline, and choice’ (The Guardian, 19 September, 6). The concept of parental choice, however, remains a much‐debated one. Those schools which have thrived as a result of market competition, and are fully subscribed or oversubscribed, are now in a position where it is they, rather than parents, who are able to exert an element of choice over which pupils they enter on their rolls. See also school admissions.

Subjects: Education.

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