(Image: Sir Anthony Seldon auditioning for the Apollo Theatre's stage production of
Saturday Night Fever)
On Friday 3rd March the iNews website published an article by ex-Master of Wellington College, Sir Anthony Seldon, on 'How we could solve education’s inequality problems with just 100 new schools' . Seldon believes that education's lack of equity could be easily solved by building 100 new selective Free Schools. According to Seldon, these 'May Schools' would be different from grammar schools as they would only be for the 'bottom 25% of the population'. Seldon goes on to suggest that the schools would only target 'bright, disadvantaged students who the current system is failing'. But only if you're the poorest of the poor. If you're just outside this arbitrary measure then you'll just need to get on with being let down. Throughout his article Seldon goes on to answer 'your questions' which he writes and poses to himself. Nonetheless, there's still a few things that bother me...
Why only the bottom 25%?
This seems somewhat unfair when given that 28 - 30% (CPAG, 2016) of children are now living in poverty? Is it not pretty cruel to tell a child that 'we know you're poor but you're not quite poor enough for our selective school'. I suppose there's no need to worry though as these borderline impoverished kids can always try and get into one of the new (old) types of grammar schools. However, they will of course have to compete against middle class children who's parents can afford to pay for extra tuition to get their children through the 11-plus exam.
What about Hardship High's entrance exam?
According to Seldon, middle class children would not be able to apply unless they happen to be in the bottom 25% of the socio-economic groups. Anyhow, these tests will somehow separate those with genuine academic potential to those who have been 'drilled' to pass the 11-plus by being 'far more subtle'. What does this even mean? And will subtler be interpreted to mean easier in the eyes of parents, peers and potential employers?
And the stigma?
There's already a huge stigma attached to children who claim Free School Meals. Thankfully, this has been reduced through the introduction of electronic payments however many pupils know which of their peers are entitled to a free meal each day. How will children feel going to Hardship High or Council Kid College? Will knowing that you're the best of the bottom 25% fill you will pride and aspiration?
Seldon also goes on to suggest that his May Schools will eventually lead to 15,000 pupils each year looking to go on to study at university. Even if these pupils do finish Hardship High with a decent set of results doesn't mean they'll want to go to univesity to rack-up 50K worth of debts. Unless the university's he proposes are attached to these schools offer grants and bursaries for disadvantaged students. Also, how will these schools be viewed by univeristies? After all, they only select from the bottom 25% of children. Disadvantaged children already are disproportionally represented (6%) at Russell Group Universities (Guardian, 2016). These schools could increase this segregation even more.
How will these schools affect the disadvantaged children?
One of the criticisms of grammar schools is that they often lead to cultural assimilation where 'working-class children are turned into middle-class citizens' (Jackson and Marsden, 1962, p. 15). Historically, many of these children felt disconnected from their communities and friends as they were expected to engage in more middle class arts, sports and culture (Todd, 2014). Seldon also seems to ignore the potential harm which can be caused by Boarding School Syndrome (Schaverien, 2015) which is caused by sending children away from normal family life at a young age.
What about those children who don't get in?
'These entrance exams would be geared towards whether the child could benefit from an academic school career'. Should every child not be afforded this opportunity? So, what happens to those children who don't get into the new grammar schools, Hardship High Schools, or any of the other schools who decide to convert to selection under the government's proposals? There's an underlying elitism and snobbery here that only grammars and May Schools can provide a rigours and academic education. Seldon might do well to visit many state schools across the country who are managing to do this within very limited budgets.
Seriously though, where does the money come from?
Seldon claims that the 100 new schools would cost £3bn to build but attempts to justify this by arguing that the money is only for the most able and disadvantaged in society. I'm sure this will go down particularly well with teachers whose schools are facing budget cuts under the government's Unfair Funding Formula. Seldon does, however, suggest each Hardship High School will be attached to an independent school who will be able to 'provide academic enrichment in certain subjects'. I'm sure schools such as Wellington College, who charge up to £37K per year fees, will gladly help these Hardship High Schools as it will protect their charitable status which collectively reduces the public purse by about £250 million in tax each year (Independent, 2016).
I'm sure the 13th Master of Wellington College meant well when he wrote this article on Friday but his Hardship High Schools won't help to reduce inequality but will lead to further educational segregation and a much worse deal for the majority of poorer children.
Child Poverty Action Group, 'Child poverty facts and figures' (June 2016).
Guardian, 'Universities told to raise number of working-class and black students', (February 2016).
Independent, 'Private schools catering for the global elite are spending lavishly because of their huge UK tax breaks. (10th May 2016)
iNews, 'Sir Anthony Seldon: how we could solve education's inequality problems with just 100 new schools' (3rd March 2017).
Jackson, B. and Marsden, D. (1962), Education and the Working Class. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd.
Todd, S (2014), The People; the rise and fall of the working class. London: John Murray.
Schaverien, J. (2015), Boarding School Syndrome: The Psychological Trauma of the 'Privileged' Child. Abingdon: Routledge.
This is the re-working/ writing of a post I wrote yesterday. Realised I've got much more to say about the government's expansion of selection schools. It's coming soon...