Secret teacher: we’re not to blame for poor social mobility

The latest Secret Teacher, writing in the Guardian, says it’s easier for government to say teachers fail to inspire children raised in poverty “than fixing the awful conditions they experience outside the school gates”.

…my ears tuned into the radio. Children from poor families who live in affluent areas have less chance of attaining good exam grades. In certain wealthy areas of the country, the poorest students are not making the same amount of progress as their poor counterparts in other regions – and certainly not enough compared with wealthier peers.

For a second, I thought they might suggest a solution. Perhaps the government had realised that poverty is poverty…

But my hopes were dashed when a solemn spokesperson from the Department for Education informed me that the solution to social mobility lies with schools. “Thanks to our reforms there are now 1.4 million more pupils being taught in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools,” he said, “… we are determined to spread this educational excellence everywhere, extending true social mobility for all.”

…the government looks to schools for failing to hothouse youngsters who are raised in poverty. They’d rather do this than fix the actual conditions that determine their life chances. They ignore the poverty that exists for the children who are unlucky enough to live in areas labelled as “affluent” – they’re whitewashed as “having it all” thanks to the average local income.

Let’s make cuts to the Sure Start Scheme, that reached out to and supported these families – helping them achieve a better future from the off, says government. Let’s cut their benefits and force their parents to go to the foodbank. Let’s force their grandma out of her council house or tax her ruthlessly for that spare room that the children like to sleep over in. And when these children aren’t champions of social mobility, let’s blame the school…

The vicious circle is not the fault of the teachers, but society. Teachers and schools have just become a government scapegoat. My colleagues and I must teach harder, mark harder, plan harder so our students blossom (despite their experiences beyond the school gates) into fine, upstanding and successful examples of Britishness – just like my cake. If they don’t, it’s easier to blame the oven – then we do not have to look for the real reasons why our youngsters do not flourish; improving the ingredients is a far more expensive business…

More at: Secret teacher: we’re not to blame for poor social mobility


It’s well worth reading the full article for some interesting personal insights from this week’s Secret Teacher but what do you think of the big idea here: can schools be an important lever in social mobility or is that futile as long as inequality exists in society?

In other words, how far can and should schools be the focus of overcoming inherent disadvantage amongst young people?

Please give us your opinions in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Policy and Teaching.


  1. Secret Teacher is right.  But it’s more convenient for the Govt to blame teachers than to look at the consequences of their own policies.  Poverty isn’t a determinant, the Govt says.  And it’s right but only up to a point.  Poverty is a handicap: poor nourishment doesn’t feed the body, never mind the brain; trying to keep warm demands energy which isn’t then used for learning; parents working long hours to pay bills don’t have time for reading to their kids, taking them to activities, or even play with them. 
    Add to that the problem of moving between schools because you’re in short-term lets, or the family had to move to a smaller house because politicians who claim expenses for two homes tell you your home is too big for your needs, or the latest – your flat in a high-rise will be demolished to make way for ‘affordable’ houses.
    It’s so much easier to blame teachers.

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