Education Apr 12 2010

Class divides our schools

LInk to original article on commentisfree

The Sutton Trust report today, on social segregation in schools, achieved the predicted headlines. The use of IDACI data, rather than free school meals, to assess pupil disadvantage, suggested that a small number of comprehensive schools had fewer poor pupils than some grammar schools.

A media focus on that single fact led to the main point of the report going unnoticed even though it showed quite clearly that a combination of own admissions schools, overt selection by ability and aptitude, covert selection by faith, self selection and  residential geography, allied to parent choice, divides children by race and class. And all this without  mentioning how the system can also be abused by crafty parents who lie about where they live.

The authors of the report, Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson, suggest the answer is to introduce a lottery for all school places. Not a bad idea in principle. Technically lotteries with anonymised applicants are race, class, faith, ability and postcode blind.

The only trouble is that Smithers and Robinson want to impose the lottery on top of all the other selective and semi-selective criteria, which lie at the root of the problem since they allow schools to weed out more affluent and well supported children as the expense of the most challenging pupils, who often start school with low levels of prior attainment, thus compounding the enduring inequalities in society more generally.

Schools alone can’t undo the huge impact of income inequality and poor housing, although initiatives like high quality early years provision, great teachers in the most challenging schools and one to one tuition for children who fall behind can help.

But admissions matter. Schools need balanced intakes to benefit the all children. Any form of selection that radically unbalances the social composition of schools across a given area is a bad thing, whether it is selection by ability, aptitude, faith, complex own school banding systems or admissions authorities turning a blind eye to cheating.They should all be abolished and be replaced by a political commitment to creating schools with balanced intakes, possibly using area wide banding systems. Who knows, then we might not need the lottery?

One Response to “Class divides our schools”

  1. aloogobi says:

    I am affluent and deliberately bought a house within catchment of excellent schools. Is that bad? Or should I have bought a place in the poorer part of the city and let my kids go there

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