Are the school gates closed to poorer families?

Barnardo’s have recently published a report entitled Unlocking the gates: Giving disadvantaged children a fairer deal in school admissions which evidences a social segregation in working a schools complex admissions systems.

This has meant that better off parents are doing better at choosing the good schools for their children than are parents from poorer backgrounds.

The report ascribes chaotic lives as one reason why many poorer parents find it difficult to navigate admissions, as well as “[f]requent house moves, a lack of spoken or written English, disability, learning difficulties, and domestic violence […] just some of the circumstances which lead to many parents failing to submit an application for their child at all”.

It even mentions a sense of fatalism felt by parents who may often just accept their lot so to speak when looking for good schools.

A worrying statistic cited from Children and Young People Now states that “half of all pupils entitled to free school meals are still concentrated in a quarter of secondary schools.”

A huge concern in the education sector today is whether the “pupil premium” – a set fund incentivising schools to take on children from lesser off backgrounds – will make a difference to a pupils life or not. Since the order of the day is freeing schools from state regulation, tracking the benefit of the fund will be far more difficult than it would even be now.

As Fiona Millar has recently said, the premium is a costly venture if its benefits are not properly tracked or tailored properly; instead abolishing selection altogether would be more appropriate.

Schools keen to keep a high status, either to reap academy status or in pursuit of it, may well weigh up whether  it is beneficial for them to accept children from all abilities and backgrounds to enjoy the pupil premium for undisclosed spending on their education, or select on the basis of talent or likelihood to produce the best results, thus excluding children from backgrounds that tend not to produce the best results (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, single parent children, looked after children etc).

On this basis I think Millar, above, may be right; reduce the perverse incentives and pursue an education that won’t allow children to fall through the gaps, while addressing the unfair concentration of poorer children in the same schools. Forget free schools, what is needed are fair schools.

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