Secondary schools which have been less than good for ten years or more tend to be those with a higher proportion of white British pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) than the national average, Education Datalab reports.
Datalab looked at 1400 secondary rated satisfactory or inadequate between September 2005 and August 2008. At the end of 2017/18, 420 were less than good (134 being inadequate) and 116 had either closed or lost pupils following ‘a complex reorganisation’.
These ‘stuck’ schools also had a greater proportion of pupils with lower prior attainment than schools which subsequently became good.
They were also more likely to be in the East Midlands or Yorkshire and Humberside.
It can take a while before schools judged less than good become good, Datalab found. This is ‘especially true with disadvantaged, low-attaining cohorts’. It’s not as if such schools had been ignored – they are likely to have been subjected to various interventions. This is particularly so in Knowsley, the go-to local authority (LA) when politicians want to damn an LA for its poor performance. Datalab describes waves of initiatives washing over Knowsley since 1999. But the most recent inspections show only one Knowsley secondary is good, four are less than good and one hasn’t been inspected since becoming an academy (the predecessor school required improvement).
Is there more still to be done to improve the Ofsted rating of these schools? asks Datalab. This presumes Ofsted’s inspection criteria isn’t skewed against schools with more white FSM pupils with low prior achievement (as measured by SATs). Such schools are more likely to be judged less than good.
Datalab suggests this is a systemic problem. It hopes the new inspection framework, due in September, ‘recognises the system-wide issue that some demographic groups of pupils do not achieve as well as others.’
Cognitive Aptitude Tests could show that pupils deemed 'low performing' are actually reaching their potential but league tables judge schools for the proportion reaching an arbitrary GCSE benchmark of 'good' GCSEs. This data in turn influences inspection outcomes.
CAT tests aside, why do white FSM children do less well at school? It’s tempting to blame poor parenting but while there are a tiny proportion of feckless parents (not just confined to parents of FSM children), a majority of parents want their children to do well at school. Could the failure of this demographic group be more to do with how the English education system treats them?
The whole question of ‘social mobility’ is built on the presumption that children must ‘aspire’ to pathways requiring working class children to leave their roots. But, as Diane Reay points out in Miseducation, this demeans working class parents and their children. In ‘striving for success’ working class people who succeed become ‘somebody’. But their families remain ‘nobodies’. Reay asks:
‘What is the point of striving for equality with more-privileged others if the process creates inequalities between you and the people you love’.
CORRECTION: The article has been amended. I originally said 'This presumes Ofsted's inspection criteria isn't skewed in favour of schools with fewer white FSM pupils with low prior achievement...' and such schools were more likely to be judged less than good. This was wrong. It should have been 'skewed against schools with more white FSM pupils...' This has been corrected.