Poorest kids denied access to best schools

The Sutton Trust today highlighted something that won’t get much air time this election. Poorer kids are being excluded from our best state schools.

The Sutton Trust today highlighted something that won’t get much air time this election. Poorer kids are being excluded from our best state schools. This is an inconvenient fact that undercuts our best hopes for education reform. If students from tougher backgrounds cannot access the best provision, then closing the achievement gap becomes considerably harder.

So how does this work in practice? Despite a recent strengthening of the school admissions code (which only became statutory in 2002) many schools still act as their own admissions authorities. This means they can set their own criteria for entrance when the school is oversubscribed (as the best ones always are).

The most common criteria used by schools (and Local Authorities where they are admissions authorities) is proximity. And this has provided privileged access for those who can afford to live nearby, leading to what estate agents call the ‘house price premium’. Nationwide bank estimates that a 10 per cent improvement in exam results adds £4,500 to the price of local homes.

Proxy indicators such as attendance at church or aptitude in a certain subject are also used. According to 2006 OECD data, 29 per cent of all UK 15 year olds were in schools either because of their ability, or a primary school recommendation or their parent’s religious faith. And as today’s report suggest, these indicators tend to benefit those who are better off.

One way of solving this is to use a ballot when schools are oversubscribed. This is both more transparent and gives poorer kids a better chance of getting in. However, it appears decidedly unpopular. The suggestion that a child’s education is subject to a lottery seems an un-winnable argument.

The challenge then is to combine ballots with other reforms that expand choice for everyone and tackle failure hard. Some were highlighted in the Labour manifesto today, such as allowing parents and governing bodies a greater say over when to replace poor management teams.

Other policies could include judging schools not on their 5 A*-Cs but on a progress measure for all students. This will let parents (and administrators) know whether schools are good at stretching the most able and providing support for those who need catch-up, rather than adept at focusing intervention at the D/C borderline.

But however we proceed in education policy, unfair admissions must be tackled. We need to replace a system which is replete with legal disputes and underhand tactics, with one that gives a fairer chance for kids who are excluded from the best schools.

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7 Responses to “Poorest kids denied access to best schools”

  1. Johanna Thomas-Corr

    RT @leftfootfwd: Poorest kids denied access to best schools: http://bit.ly/9Yoy6y

  2. Privilege Schools

    Poorest kids denied access to best schools | Left Foot Forward: The Sutton Trust today highlighted something that … http://bit.ly/dBDzCZ

  3. Oli de Botton

    RT @leftfootfwd: Poorest kids denied access to best schools http://bit.ly/9Yoy6y

  4. Duncan Stott

    That second-to-last paragraph is so important. Value Added scores are included in league tables, but aren’t given the prominence of the absolute measures.

    Take a look at secondary schools in Oldham (where I went to school).
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/education/09/school_tables/secondary_schools/html/353.stm

    (The numbers will have changed since my time in education, but they still representative of the situation I faced.)

    I went to Blue Coat for my GCSEs, but then switched to Oldham Sixth Form for my A-Levels. At A-Level, Blue Coat has a higher average absolute score, but a worse Value Added.

    Most of my school friends stayed on at Blue Coat to do their A-Levels, because they saw that Blue Coat got better results. But I got better A-Level results than these friends who did better at GCSE. I tried explaining this to them, but they wouldn’t be told (even at 16 it is often still parents who decide, not pupils).

    I’m not suggesting any personal superiority in league table understanding; my parents are both teachers so understood the system.

    Switching from absolute scores to Value Added as the primary measure of a school’s achievement would be such a simple change for the government to implement – the statistic is already compiled.

    But in the meantime, any parent who wants the best for their kids should first and foremost look at Value Added scores of the schools in their area.

  5. Cityunslicker

    Let’s face it the realy select schools, you know the ones most fo the cabinet like Balls, Harman, the ex PM Blair – select on parental wealth alone. Surely that is another way of choosing kids, after all it takes away the unfair ‘ability’ test does it not.

  6. SSP Campsie

    RT @leftfootfwd Poorest kids denied access to best schools: http://short.to/23h05

  7. sspcampsie

    RT @leftfootfwd Poorest kids denied access to best schools: http://short.to/23h05

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