Stories + Views
Let’s have ‘no excuses’ on admissions, for a change.
One of the interesting things about education debate is about how certain issues come to the fore, then fade and then rise in prominence again. To take but two of these – the question of admissions policy, and the relationship between private and public education-; both have resurfaced in an excellent piece by Ron Glatter in the Guardian this week.
Using international evidence – so beloved, albeit in highly selective fashion, by our education secretary – Glatter reminds us of the importance of social mix in raising, or depressing, performance; a fact which seriously undermines the punitive ‘no excuses’ culture that has ruled educational rhetoric since the Coalition took power. The reason that ‘no excuses’ is so popular with the Tories, in particular, is that it leads to no significant structural change ( or not in favour of greater equality) and a mass of punishment of hard working teachers. It also gives the private schools an ideologically gilded role in the entire schema by suggesting that they provide a key template for publicly funded school improvement.
We have one of the most unequal school systems in the world. And, as Glatter points out, private education in the UK acts as a serious stumbling block to creating a high quality public education system. Why? Quite simply, it creams off the wealthy and relatively wealthy; gives them superior resources – and then uses their results to beat over the head schools in far poorer communities working with far few resource.
And yet – as Glatter points out with devastating precision, ‘ when account has been taken of the socio-economic background of pupils, state schools in the UK outperform private schools by a considerable margin. In fact the gap here is much greater than across the OECD as a whole where state schools have only a slight performance advantage over private schools.’
Glatter continues, ‘ If politicians were serious about their oft-stated concern for the poor – and their claim to want to match the world’s best – they would do more to ensure that there is a better mix of pupils within schools, which the OECD has consistently urged. It has found that increasing the social mix within schools boosts the performance of disadvantaged students without any apparent negative effect on overall performance.’
Of course, this is one aim that fairer admissions policies tried to consolidate; a set of initiatives, however, that has juddered to a halt – indeed, gone backwards – under this government, with de facto abolition of local admissions forums, sneaky changes to the admissions code, and of course, the introduction of a host of autonomous ‘independent’ schools that can, in many cases, covertly select, in order to improve the socio economic quality of their intake.
Any government serious about improving publicly funded education needs to tackle the fair admissions question and, at the very least, stop promoting private education as a template for anything in the public realm. It is not.
Incidentally, I think we should talk less about ‘state schools/state education’ and advocate, instead, high quality public education – for that is what we are after. It would also throw a fresh, inquiring light on the long entrenched use of the term ‘public schools’ for those educational institutions closed to any but the wealthy. For surely, the one thing they are not is ‘public.’