The Guardian are reporting that the new government may have settled in, but the detail of future education policy remains unclear. The prime minister, Theresa May and education secretary, Justine Greening, have flagged up their commitment to social mobility. May wants to fight the “burning injustice” of inequality and make Britain a country that works “for everyone”.
But where will that leave the changes made by their predecessors? This week marks the sixth anniversary of the Academies Act, which provided a fast track conversion process. The first wave of the equally contentious free schools celebrate their fifth birthday in September. The former education secretary Michael Gove claimed these changes would offer parents more choice and improve the chances of the poorest children. But how far has this promise been realised? There are now 5,302 academies and 304 free schools – and the Cameron government’s pledge that all non-academy schools should eventually convert has not been retracted.
A new analysis of the intakes of all schools suggests that, far from widening access for poorer children, the changes that May and Greening must contemplate accelerating have reinforced existing patterns of social segregation and in some cases exacerbated them.
In practice the English school system has always been diverse and includes many schools that are much more – or much less – inclusive of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Timo Hannay, a former research scientist and founder of education data analysis company SchoolDash, says these have typically been grammar schools, some faith schools, Roman Catholic schools, single sex secondary schools and schools rated “outstanding” by Ofsted.
But SchoolDash has crunched the most up-to-date DfE figures to compare the percentage of children in each school eligible for free school meals (FSM) with the government’s measurement of local deprivation, known as IDACI – income deprivation affecting children index. The results suggest converter academies and primary free schools also tend to have a lower proportion of disadvantaged pupils than their communities.
According to Prof Stephen Gorard, of Durham University, who has been looking at school segregation since the 1988 Education Act, “there has always been a degree of social segregation in the English school system and there are marked differences in particular local authority areas”. He says: “Where there is more diversity there tends to be more segregation. Where there are different kinds of schools, such as free schools and academies, they may become an ‘escape route’ of choice.”
Do you think academies and free schools are helping to preserve social segregation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter ~ Nellie
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