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Inequality in Education: “Things are getting worse for poorer children, instead of better”

The Department of Education has highlighted that one in three disadvantaged students achieved five GCSEs, including English and Maths at C or above, compared to well off students who fared 60% better. Furthermore, 330 comprehensive schools have failed to reach the government’s minimum target of 40% “good” GCSEs. Yet, qualms over educational inequality remain eerily quiet in the run up to the general election.

The chief executive of renowned educational charity Teach First, Brett Wigdortz, has rightly claimed that “Over recent years great strides have been taken to close the gap, but this data sees a reversal overall. Things are getting worse for poorer children, instead of better”. Changes to GCSEs, with a sombre focus on linear examination, has forced teachers and students alike to increasingly tailor their education to the whims of the exam, not the subject.

Nicky Morgan, who replaced the foolhardy Michael Gove as Education Secretary, responded by exulting in the fact that “young people’s achievement matters more than being able to trumpet ever higher grades” (The Guardian 2015). Yet, by focusing on the mere C/D borderline, students are alienated at the top and bottom scale of academic merit. Ultimately, this creates isolation and inequality: schools should not be places where focusing on arbitrary exam results triumphs expressions of creativity.

Of those eligible for free school meals in 2013, 61.9% did not achieve at least five GCSEs A* to C

We need to recognise that, sadly, academic success in many English schools is largely dependent on the socioeconomic background of students. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), and other organisations, utilised free school meals (FSM) as a surrogate measure of poverty amongst school students. In August 2014, JRF described that of those eligible for free school meals in 2013, 61.9% did not achieve at least five GCSEs A* to C (including English and Maths) compared to 35.2% of pupils not eligible for free school meals.

Far too often the debate is meandered by the notion that there is an inherent inequality within the British education system, mostly as a result of the private education system. Whilst there may still be a divide, as a result of the dichotomy of private and state schooling, our sole focus should be on improving socioeconomic conditions, and cultural appreciation of the need for good education, to help bridge educational inequality.

The discrepancy in education across the country is deeply concerning

There is also, a perhaps less anticipated, trend in educational equality between different ethnicities: The Guardian recently reported that 64% of Asian students and 62% of Black students are more likely to attend higher education, compared to 45% of White students (2012/13). Underachievement by white working class children remains an important issue. Furthermore, our children are placed in what Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, has described as an ‘educational lottery’. The discrepancy in education across the country is deeply concerning. Even in assumed locations of affluence there are some of the worst performing schools in the country.

It is, therefore, apparent that educational inequality is a pertinent issue in the run up to the General Election. Whether it is the ethnic or social background of children, the lack of focus on ensuring equal access of opportunity means for our children that the school they attend, at the age of 11, can cast a huge bearing on their life and its opportunities.

Abdul Muktadir

Image courtesy of Blue Square Thing via Flickr

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