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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6 Responses to Are the school gates closed to poorer families?

  1. Left Outside says:

    I’m unconvinced on a pupil premium.

    Or rather, I’m unconvinced a politically viable pupil premium will work. A massive, orders of magnitude, one would work, but we won’t get that. Spending twice on educating someone from hackney on what we spend on someone from Notting Hill won’t do much. Each extra £ spent on education doesn’t do as much as you’d expect.

    BTW, what is with your frenetic theme changing, what, is this your fourth in a year?

    • Carl P says:

      Well spending is nothing without direction. Effectively Gove et al has realised that in giving schools more freedom, yet giving them warning signs that they must have a good level of pupils achieving 5 A-C GCSEs in English and maths, might disincentivise accepting children from backgrounds notable for their low attainment. The way they think they can get around this is by offering a pot of money to be spent on helping raise their attainment. Guidance on how to spend this money would obviously go against the point of making schools more free (or less controlled depending on how you look at it). My contention is you have to track how this is spent, otherwise it is lost money, the benefits of which are unknown.

      Further, the DfE have not done anything to curb the perverse incentive of not allowing admission of vulnerable children or children from backgrounds associated with low attainment. This “freedom” lark will create an own goal if the DfE aren’t careful.

      • Left Outside says:

        I see, so the money isn’t there as a premium to spend on a poor pupil its there as an incentive not to cherry pick. Like efficiency wages, paying a little extra to ensure people don’t shirk… Interesting.

      • Carl P says:

        In short yes.

        The schools are given a sum of money outside of the school budget to disincentivise schools having admissions policies that discriminate against the disadvantaged, and also to stop middle class getting the pick of the best schools.

        But my contention – and many other places including the mostly unsympathetic Telegraph – is that disadvantaged kids may not benefit from this because it is up to the school to decide what to do with it – and what do you do with it? Bigger blackboards? Who knows. Back in the good ol days of bureaucracy the government would have offered some guidance.

  2. O/T: congratulations on being considered “worse” than Melanie Phillips by readers of A Very Public Sociologist, an accolade I can but dream of.

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