The Observer view on education and social mobility : Observer Editorial

The scandal of schools failing the poorest pupils is being ignored by both main parties.

Government cuts to school budgets will undoubtedly dominate debate at the annual teacher union conferences this weekend. And with good reason: schools in some areas are set to lose almost a fifth of their per-pupil funding by 2020. This is the sharpest cut to schools funding since the 1970s, coming as six in 10 academies are running average annual deficits of £350,000.

But there is plenty else to discuss. The education secretary, Justine Greening, elaborated on the government’s plans to expand grammar schools last Thursday. The week before, Jeremy Corbyn launched a new schools policy: free school lunches for all primary school children.

Grammars and free lunches are being championed from opposite ends of the spectrum, but both symbolise the failure of the political establishment to address the most serious issues facing the English school system. Social background remains a much stronger predictor of academic performance than in the top performing school systems, such as Canada and Finland. By international standards, a large proportion of young people, mostly from poorer backgrounds, leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. Children from the richest backgrounds are twice as likely to go to outstanding schools than those from the poorest.

There are huge geographical disparities: while every secondary school in several London boroughs is rated good or outstanding, not a single young person going to secondary school in Knowsley attended a good school in 2016. On the Isle of Wight, the figure was just one in four.



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