How about equality for all in our education system?
Mr Gove and the Government are developing academies and free schools to give more ‘choice to parents’. Ironically, this will give parents, as a whole, less choice. It will lead to greater exclusion of troubled children, more forced segregation of disabled children, more hate crime and will create a more unequal society.
Yet this Government in opposition, voted for the Single Equalities Act in 2010, with some reservations, an Act that incorporated all the previous legislation, including gender, race and ethnicity, disability, age, religion and sexual orientation. Since coming to power, the Conservatives have engaged in a number of measures to roll back this legislation. These include diminishing the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the independent body charged to monitor implementation of this legislation; reducing requirements on public bodies (which include all state funded schools) to only have one equality objective over four years and no Equality Scheme; to have no binding Code of Practice for Schools and Colleges or a Code of Practice for the Public Sector Duty, suggesting all such measures are bureaucratic!
They argue outcomes are more important than the process and that schools and other public bodies should be subject to scrutiny by their users. When added to the increasing sidelining of Local Authorities, with promotion of academies and free schools and the light touch scrutiny of these schools by OFSTED, this is a recipe for increasing inequality.
What evidence is there for this?
Primary academies have existed since 2002 as part of 5-18 schools, yet only 7 achieved better results than average, 9 out of 19 saw their achievement fall by 2010. Most worryingly, children with special educational needs (SEN) did far worse than in any other type of school at KS2 tests. (Annual Report on SEN pupils 2010 DFE). Secondary academies keep more pupils out of exams. In 20% of academies 5% of pupils didn’t sit English and Maths, double that of any other school type, In 8.5% of academies, 10% of pupils didn’t sit English or Maths, three times higher than any other school type.
Academies exclude twice as many children as other schools, according to the Children’s Commissioner. The pressures of league tables of national test results are narrowing and distorting the curriculum for all, but certain groups are prone to be casualties. As a result, exclusions impact differentially, as reported by the Children’s Commissioner for England (March 2012). If you are black, disabled (SEN), male and on free school meals (poor), you are 168 times more likely to be excluded than if you are white, female, have no SEN and are not on free school meals.
All this is indicative of a wider malaise in our schools caused by successive governments’ obsession with testing. The test results are the currency used to force privatisation. 500 schools not reaching their test floor targets are to be made academies, including 4 primary schools in Haringey. Good schools were shamefully re-classified to fit in this category.
Some say all this improves choice. Yet, without equality of provision for all, choice of some parents is a recipe for inequality for most children. England has more variety of schools than other European countries and the most testing, yet we do not have the best results, we still have a strong class system and our children were identified as ‘the unhappiest in Europe’. Imagine a school which includes all children living in the neighbourhood, where all grow up respecting difference and valuing diversity, achieve their academic, creative and social potential, a school where all teachers are adequately trained to meet the needs of all learners, with adequate support, high status and decent remuneration. This is not too much to ask, unless there is another plan in play.
We know that alternatives to the current market driven approach work, where schools and staff have inclusive values and attitudes, work collaboratively and are supported by school leaders who embrace and facilitate these values. Take Wroxham Primary School in Hertfordshire. (Creating Learning Without Limits, OU Press 2012). The values of inclusion and equality are the central drivers, with children supporting each other, working collaboratively. Staff support each other to work in a transformative way, which has taken the school from failing to outstanding. There are still many schools that place inclusive values before test results, but all are threatened by a Government bent on cajoling and bribing schools into the academy market place.
Already five academies in East Anglia are being run for profit. Gove has said that after 2015 they will all be able to make a profit. There is nothing wrong with state schools that can not be improved by inclusive and collaborative values, Local Authority support, adequate funding and good leadership. Instead, competition is heralded as the way forward, with the ulterior motive of returning state funding to the wealthy through privatisation. The gap between the richest and poorest grows, leading to poverty, inequality, disaffection, violence and scapegoating of disabled people and other minorities. Now we need to build a powerful Movement for Equality in Education to educate, organise and change our society for the benefit of all in a sustainable, democratic and fair way.Tagged in: benefits, disability, education, equality, Equality and Human Rights Commission, michael gove, schools, Single Equalities Act, special needs, welfare
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter