Hobson's choice is no choice

BOTH Labour and the Tories are desperate to move the political emphasis to "public services" in their desperation to get the focus away from Europe and Iraq.

BOTH Labour and the Tories are desperate to move the political emphasis to "public services" in their desperation to get the focus away from Europe and Iraq.

But if I hear either of them go on about choice any more, I think I'll scream. Don't these people live in the real world? Don't they know that choice and public service are totally incompatible?

Of course it's all very well to go on about choice in education if you've got enough money – then you can choose whether to send Tarquin to Harrow or Eton!

Or more likely you can choose to spend an extra £20,000 on a house in the Northgate catchment area.

But frankly to talk about offering choice without paying for it or moving house is a nonsense.

In the Ipswich area most schools are full with catchment-area pupils. Technically parents have the right to apply for places in another school but in practice there aren't any vacancies.

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To suggest there is a real choice is a cruel deception on parents – and one they very quickly see through.

The Tory suggestion of allowing "successful" schools to expand to take in all the pupils whose parents want them to go there is also ridiculous.

That way you'd find some schools of about 3,000 pupils getting all the money and the best teachers while other schools would be left withering because they only provided places for children whose parents don't care where they go or how they do – or because they're too poor to be able to ferry their youngsters to the "good school" five miles away.

Talk about a two-tier education system!

That's also why it's ridiculous for the current government to suggest that schools should specialise in single subjects.

What happens if little Johnny is a maths wizard and his local school specialises in languages?

Surely it's best to have good general schools able to give pupils the best possible education across the board – not just specialising in one subject.

It is also daft to suggest that schools don't need the support that is provided by a local education authority.

There is no way that every school can have an expert on every subject it is ever likely to encounter – however large or small they are, they all need support at some stage.

That's best provided locally. Where would schools funded by central government get their advice from – Whitehall?

Good education authorities, like that in Suffolk, are not prison warders forcing head teachers to go against what they think is best for their school.

They are there to help out when needed – providing training, financial support, architects services when new buildings are needed, a whole range of services that will be needed at some stage.

There may be some LEAs which are a disaster, surely the solution is to target them rather than just condemn the whole system which is what the Tories seem to be doing right now.

The other big "public service" issue that has the political parties exercised is, of course, the health service.

Again the concept of choice is ridiculous – there are only so many hospitals anyone would want to be treated however short the waiting lists are.

How many people would be prepared to travel from Ipswich to Inverness – or even Cambridge – for a hip operation even if the waiting list was a few weeks shorter?

People want to be treated near their home so their family and friends can visit them.

They want efforts concentrated on making their local hospital better not on creating meaningless choices they will never want.

Some people may be forced to fly to Germany or France for a hip operation – but most of us want to be treated near enough home not feel cut off from our own community.

Frankly what doctors, nurses and teachers would like from governments is less talk about reforming "public services" and more emphasis put on making them work.

The last thing they need is more changes to the bureaucracy from either party – just let the professionals get on with their job.

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