October 2nd, 2007
The Tories appear to have come up with a good idea for tackling the thorny problem of encouraging social mobility through the education system. My natural inclinations are not conservative, nevertheless, their idea has merit I think, and deserves serious consideration.
Financialy, students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be worth more to schools than ones from socially more advantaged backgrounds, reports Anthea Lipsett in the Education Guardian.
The only good example of genuinely encouraging upward social mobility through the education system was the post-war Grammar School System, which enabled students from poor backgrounds who were good enough to get into grammar schools the same opportunities to succeed academically as their more socially advantaged peers. Unfortunately however, the grammar school intake tended to be largely from socially advantaged backgrounds to start with, which in turn meant that large numbers of socially disadvantaged students ended up going into the Secondary Modern system. Over time this became politically unsustainable, as the Secondary Moderns seemed to be ‘scrapheaps’ for the less advantaged children.
However, scrapping this system and introducing the Comprehensive School System has not reversed this sort of trend. Now the opportunities for the few socially disadvantaged students to go to grammar schools have disappeared, but the majority have not benefited as a result. Students tend to go to their local schools, but local schools in socially deprived areas have problems attracting the best staff, encounter more students with behavioural and learning problems, and have lower expectations.
Worse, when a school becomes successful, more affluent parents move closer to it for the sake of their children, reinforcing the divide by ensuring that the students from more advantaged backgrounds go to the already-successful schools.
The Tories’ proposal is to incentivise schools to take students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds by recognising that they, on average, need more money to help educate them and so attaching to them a higher amount of funding.
In part, the levels at which the funding is set for different groups, and how it is calculated will determine the success of the scheme. I rather expect that if implemented politicians will thoroughly under-estimate the difference in funding required to offer genuine equality of educational opportunity to every student, not least because the true level of funding required would probably be huge!