“Sweeping education reforms appear to be fuelling inequality in the schools system, according to a major analysis that shows high-performing and improving schools are accepting fewer children from poor backgrounds.
In a stark assessment of the impact of controversial measures introduced since 2010, the study warns that an original pledge to set schools free and give them more power has actually led to a system that is causing high levels of stress among teachers.
It finds the system is now pushing schools and their heads to prioritise “the interests of the school over the interests of groups of, usually more vulnerable, children”. Some schools were found to be engaged in “aggressive marketing campaigns and ‘cream skimming’ aimed at recruiting particular types of students”. …
… It warns that the system in which the involvement of councils has been stripped back, with fellow schools encouraged to help their struggling counterparts, is actually seeing the creation of a market for advice – with schools charging for their expertise on how to improve.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers, the vast majority of pupils are in a good or outstanding school, 1.9 million more than in 2010, and an increase from 66% to 86% over that time.
“And thanks to our reforms schools that aren’t delivering for young people are being turned around, with 65 per cent of schools made into a sponsored academy seeing improvement from inadequate to good or outstanding. But there is always more to do, which is why we are investing £23bn by 2020 to create more good school places and we are targeting £72m at the areas that need it most to help improve prospects and opportunities for some of the most disadvantaged young people.”
The findings form part of a state-of-the-nation study of England’s education system, drawn up by academics at the UCL Institute of Education over four years, which will be published on Tuesday. It includes the examination of Ofsted data over a decade, a statistical analysis of the impact of multi-academy trusts (MATs), 47 detailed school case studies and a survey of almost 700 school leaders.
The reforms were largely implemented under the coalition government and championed by Michael Gove as education secretary. A plan to force all English schools to become academies was abandoned in 2016 after a backlash among Tory MPs.
The study concludes that any new autonomy handed to schools had been “more than balanced” by testing and inspections that had ensured the state remains in control from a distance. The drive to turn schools into academies, the key part of reforms since 2010, is described as “uneven and often fraught”.