Educational Priority Areas grew out of the desire in the 1960s to improve the quality of education for those children living in the most deprived parts of the country. Now over half a century later we find the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission that is chaired by a Labour politician and includes a former Tory Secretary of State for Education among its members recommending paying teachers 25% more to work in the most deprived schools as an experiment in improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. Well that sounds very like the Schools of Exceptional difficulty payments introduced under Margaret Thatcher’s regime when she was Edward Heath’s Education Secretary. This idea along with the instruction to Teach First to extend to certain coastal fringe areas this seems like another step in the move away from a free-market economics of education solution to a more planned and directed outcome to a problem that has be-devilled this country; the gaps in attainment between different social classes.
The Commission’s idea that the Pay Review Body might designate a new pay category that was non-geographical and thus unlike the present arrangements is really a challenge to the free market and comes remarkably swiftly after the abolition of national pay scales by the previous Secretary of State. The Commission noted that few academies had made use of the powers over pay that had been available to them in the past and this seems to have been one of the reasons for them advocating a more interventionist approach. Elsewhere, the Commission seem to have a somewhat fanciful notion of what local authorities can now achieve. It is all very well using the example of the London Challenge, but that was developed in a timeframe before the wholesale introduction of academies and free schools decimated local authority education departments. Realistically, the Commission needs to pay more attention to how far the complexity of running today’s school system may be adding to the very issue that they are trying to solve. As regular reads know, I would prefer local democratic involvement, especially in the primary school sector, but even more I would prefer a coherent management and leadership regime for the whole system that is dedicated to raising standards for all.
The Commission also discuss parental involvement and the poor quality of career advice that is often linked to low expectations. More must be done to encourage parents that the education system failed not to let the same thing happen with the next generation. Breaking the cycle of hopelessness is a vital component to raising standards as the Commission acknowledges. How to disseminate best practice rather than ritual nods to devolving training to schools and Teach First might have allowed for discussion about the content of both initial training and professional development of teachers.
Where I do agree with the Commission is in the vital role played by primary schools and the need to focus more attention on success in the early years. Regular attendance and strategies to help pupils that miss school are important moves in helping all pupils achieve success as last week’s publication of the EYFS profiles showed.
For anyone interested in the issue of social mobility this is an important but at times challenging and even depressing Report to read. It can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/364979/State_of_the_Nation_Final.pdf