'[My son] is very gifted which gives us another interesting challenge in finding the right sort of education for him – impossible in the state system. He wants to be a cardio-respiratory surgeon'
The case against her seems clear. Her son has a good choice of some highly-rated state schools, which have produced a number of medical students in recent years.
However, her views are not uncommon among parents who have little recent experience of the state system. Schools can be so focused on meeting national targets, demands from OFSTED and the Department of Education and securing high places in national league tables, that they forget to shout about the other great things they are doing - leading parents to make false assumptions. These might not just be for high achievers - parents can assume a school is not for their child for many reasons.
There's a lot of evidence that shows that parents and students need to hear stories of success to help them in their choices. Just today I was sent some CIPR research by Tracy Playle of Picklejar Communciations. In every age group, the greatest influences on education choice are family, friends and (head) teachers. They don't recommend schools to individuals based on league tables - they will talk about people they know who went to those schools and events that they know about.
Schools need to help this process. They need to show how their students mature and grow up, how they learn how to get on with others, how they develop a huge range of skills. They need to show how students are supported to work out what they do or don't want to do with their lives - and how they find great jobs - as brain surgeons, modern apprentices, or even politicians. In short, they need to use case studies of real people.
I've looked at the websites and prospectuses of the three schools named in national media as being the three local ones to Ms Hutchings. They seem like great schools in many ways. There are a lot of policies and information. But there are no stories. There is no obvious evidence of individual success stories and no news about former students at all.
What is the alternative? I wrote this 'How-To' last year to encourage schools to focus on flexible prospectuses with room for stories. News should be shared (and social media and media relations are good ways of doing this). But, before either of these comes the need to gather great stories!
UPDATE: Maria Hutchings has since claimed that she didn't mean to do Eastleigh's schools down and that the decision she took about her son was around primary school entrance in Essex. I'm not convinced though - it would be a very precocious 5-year old who knew exactly what type of surgeon he wanted to be - and in any case, state primary schools also do great things!