The Debate on Catchment Tourism: Balancing School Choice and Quality Education

Choosing a primary or preschool for their child based on quality or location should not be possible, according to MPs across the spectrum. The Ministry of Education is preparing rules to prevent so-called catchment tourism. This refers to enrolling children in primary and preschools in municipalities where parents purposely register them for permanent residence.

However, politicians are not addressing the reasons that lead parents to do so. These often include a lack of places in schools or their poor quality and reputation, parents commuting to work, and the need to have the child nearby to save time or deal with sudden problems. “I registered my son at my parents’ address so that he could attend kindergarten there. My husband and I live outside Prague and commute to work. I can’t imagine receiving a call from the kindergarten to pick up my son because he’s unwell, and I arrive two hours later due to traffic congestion,” Lenka explained.

Parents discuss the reasons for transporting their children to schools even if it means covering long distances on social media. “Before my son started school, we speculated and researched for two years to find out about the school here… mainly about the teachers. Bullying by a teacher is a daily occurrence. Some children have even developed psychological problems because of it,” explained Žaneta, why she takes her son to a different school every day.

Gabriela was prompted to transport her daughter to school due to relocation. “I enrolled her in a school where most of her kindergarten classmates went, in the neighborhood where she grew up,” she described.

Differences between schools, which are established by municipalities using taxpayers’ money, are often significant, whether in terms of extracurricular activities or teaching methods. Some schools adhere to traditional approaches, while others experiment with modern methods. Some parents are satisfied, while others complain about certain schools. Differences also exist in the success of children in entrance examinations for further studies.

Despite this, politicians argue that it is wrong for parents to choose the best school for their children. A working group at the Ministry of Education is currently fine-tuning rules, confirmed Aneta Lednová, a spokesperson for the ministry. The parameters are not finalized yet, but the criterion of permanent residence is being discussed.

Former Deputy Mayor of Prague 6 responsible for education and MP Jan Lacina (STAN) insists on catchment areas. “It happened to us that a boy who lived thirty meters from the Hanspaulka school did not get in, but four students from Roztoky did, and everyone knew they lived there,” he said.

Lacina does not want to allow children whose parents commute to work to study in Prague. “When someone moves out of Prague, they should reconsider everything. People want a house with a garden but don’t think about the quality of education. They should think about that and not just enjoy the benefits, have quality housing with a garden, but also have a quality school in Prague 6,” Lacina added.

Head of the People’s Party parliamentary group Marek Výborný understands the motivation of parents but believes that the educational system cannot be organized around such arrangements. “There is still a certain degree of choice. We have private schools, we have church schools. When it comes to schools established by cities, municipalities, or regions, rules must exist,” he said. “It is certainly possible to admit children from outside the catchment area if there is capacity at the school,” he added.

According to MP Patrik Nacher (ANO), Prague should receive more funding for education because children from Central Bohemia attend schools in the city. “Financial conditions should be created so that Prague can handle 1.5 regions,” he said