Why the next Mayor must focus on who’s getting places at which schools.
I stand as a mayor candidate to raise this – why do the same groups of children get places at the same schools year after year and why has this remained largely unchanged since my own schooling 30 odd years ago?
When I was at school, the sport teams knew if they were playing a ‘posh’ school this would probably end in defeat. We were always more excited about playing a match against Monks Park (Orchard) or Portway (Oasis Brightstowe) because we knew we were in with a chance of winning. When the opposition was Colston Girls or St Mary Redcliffe experience taught us we were probably in for a hammering – home or away it made little difference.
Back then, Colstons Girls was a private school, the only way you were getting in was if your parents had the money, today this has changed Colstons Girls is a state funded academy allocating places to girls from across Bristol and beyond. St Mary Redcliffe was then, as now, a church school, getting a place requires regular church attendance within the Diocese of Bristol.
1 in 4 children in Bristol are currently growing up in poverty, educationally this translates to 1 in 4 (25%) of children being entitled to free school meals but these children are not evenly spread across our schools. Of the 21 secondary schools, 10 have a free school meal statistic that is less than 25%, this includes St Mary Redcliffe standing at 7.3%, Colstons Girls at 12.3%, Bristol Cathedral Choir School at 6.9% and Ashton Park at 15.3%. The other 11 schools obvious have higher numbers of free school meals as all children go to school. The highest, the City Academy Bristol (St George) has 66.9% while the Bridge Learning Campus (Hartcliffe Secondary) has 49.5%.
Poverty remains the single largest indicator of educational achievement, those who manage and govern schools know this and have done for years – it’s not a secret. The Coalition Government recognised the impact of poverty on educational achievement when it introduced Pupil Premium – funding allocated to schools to boost the educational achievement of the country’s poorest children. Pupil Premium, as yet, has not been a casualty of austerity.
Yesterday (11/11/15) The Sutton Trust published a piece of research entitled ‘Background to Success’. This found that the poorest children – those entitled to free school meals – were three times less likely to take 3 or more A levels than other students. This research also identifies something described as ‘double disadvantage’ – the impact on achievement when the poorest students attend schools with large numbers of other poor students. Whilst grades in Bristol schools have improved greatly over the past decade, what has not changed, is the gap between the ‘good’ schools with exam result in the 80-90%+ 5 A-C GCSEs and those reaching around 50%.
I have no idea if my own memories of playing other schools in sport reflects the experiences of children attending school today – over the years maybe a more level ‘playing field’ has been developed in terms of sporting success. What I do know is that those in positions of privilege have consistently used it to maintain an advantage for their children, this is why ensuring all schools in Bristol serve the full cross section of children using the state system is the only way to start to reduce the huge levels of inequality that have haunted our city for so many decades.
The solution is actually very simple. All schools, regardless of type, can prioritise places for children entitled to free school meals. Academies and Free schools have been able to do this for a good few years. Only the newly opened Steiner Free School in Fishponds has chosen to do this thus far and it this ‘choice’ that elevates this into the political sphere. Any candidate, regardless of political party or otherwise, cannot begin to tackle this city’s entrenched issues of inequality if half of our children’s secondary education system is allowed to continue to allocate places that result the backdoor social selection I recognise from my own schooling of 3 decades ago. Given the depth of educational evidence, what could be the possible reasons for any candidates in the upcoming elections not advocating for and adopting such a response?
Christine is the Independents for Bristol candidate for Bristol Mayor in 2016.
‘Background to Success’ The Sutton Trust http://www.suttontrust.com/researcharchive/background-to-success/
FSM statistics taken from School and College Performance Tables Department of Education http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/performance/geo/la801_all.html