More grammars is not the answerby Angela Rayner / March 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
Last week, the Social Mobility Commission published research showing that poorer pupils are being let down. Just think about that for a second—and then think about the government’s empty rhetoric of “a Britain that works for all.” Not if you are poor, it doesn’t. The Commission found that children on free school meals achieve less good GCSE grades than their more affluent peers. Crucially, the “attainment gap” has been getting worse since 2012. The research suggests this is because poorer pupils are more likely to be placed in lower sets, with less qualified teachers and lower expectations. So they are marked down early: poorer children aren’t expected to do well, so they get shunted to one side.
And so the cycle continues. It’s a miracle that bright kids from disadvantaged backgrounds still manage, somehow, to get on in life—and that’s without getting into the question of whether they reach their full potential. As a 16-year-old mum-to-be I was branded a failure, and I know that far too few of my former classmates have been able to reach the heights of which they were capable. Not because they lacked the ability or the aspiration, but because the obstacles were just too great.
But what is the government’s answer to this dislocation in our education system? More grammar schools, naturally. Today the government announced £320m ostensibly for the expansion of free schools, but heavily briefing that it hailed a new ‘grammar schools revolution.'” Even though its own Commission explicitly calls for it to abandon discredited plans to increase selection.
The Tories will also impose £3bn worth of funding cuts to our schools: the biggest cuts they have faced in decades. This will only make the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children wider, at a time when inequality is steadily worsening.
It’s enough to make me weep. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Labour had a proud record in government. When we took office in 1997 the attainment gap was 30.7 per cent, measured by comparing the number of pupils on free school meals who achieve five GCSEs at A*-C with the results of other pupils. When we left office, we had cut that gap by more than a third. Not good enough, maybe, but real progress nevertheless, because as a government we took radical,…