Primary school teacher and HWRK podcaster BEN KING tackles the bigger issues in print

Too poor to care

When the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was scrapped in 2011 the Government said it did so to give schools and colleges more control over the funds that are earmarked to support the poorest pupils. However, according to the Association of Colleges, that same year intakes dropped in half of England’s colleges.

Now, let’s be clear, some recipients of EMA clearly didn’t need it or chose to spend it on clothes and food rather than transport and resources. Having said that, this clearly wasn’t the case for all and the fact David Cameron’s replacement bursary scheme received only £180 million, compared to the EMA’s £380m, indicates this was just a cost saving exercise: less money to less kids.

However, are we really surprised? The research has been clear for years. Those born into a family of low educational success are far more likely to achieve less academic success than those born into families with high levels of qualifications. It may sound logical, obvious perhaps, but then why is nothing really being done about it? The simple answer: it’s too much effort.

Being born to a parent with a university degree is more likely to guarantee a child top grades at school in England than in the US, Australia and Germany. Those were the findings of educational charity >The Sutton Trust<. They found 56% of teenagers whose parents had degrees performed in the top quarter of their peer group. This compared to just 9% of those whose parents left school without qualifications.

This gap of 47% points is twice Australia’s and higher than in Germany and America. All of this is set against a backdrop of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, budget cuts and a decimation of our social services. The relative abandonment of Sure Start Centres has seen the facilities specifically put in place to help our poorest and most vulnerable children withdrawn, budgets cut and closures rife.

According to >Action for Children<, local council budgets for early help services have shrunk by £743m in five years. Clearly, the promotion of our social change and supporting those most in need is too expensive for contemporary Government. Meanwhile, Grammar Schools were guaranteed an additional £50m this year, despite there being no research to suggest they increase social mobility.

So, why is it nobody seems to care? To put it bluntly, because for the majority of our politicians they know that huge, sweeping, difficult changes – the ones really needed to actually create an even playing field – are too much effort, too difficult to take on and too unknown for any Prime Minister to want to take responsibility for.

It’s unfair that any child from any background entering our school system could face a statistical disadvantage from their first day, but it’s reality. Politicians, or at least the vast majority of them, know it won’t be the reality for their child, so why make the hard choices the potentially painful changes.

Yet what we are living through now is an almost tactical destruction of the social services designed to support our most needy and most vulnerable. Some would say it even appears deliberate that our political elite don’t want to break a cycle of low qualifications in certain areas.

Short term wins are the flavour of the day and with Mrs May unlikely to see out Brexit, let alone her full term, why worry about the future issues experts are warning will arise by cutting early years funding.

This isn’t a new problem. Once upon a time only the children of royalty or nobles were educated, then only boys of the middle classes and so on and so on. Change will come, it has to, we are holding back an entire sector of our population and in a way almost punishing them for the fluke of being born into a deprived area.

I’ve seen this first hand in schools across the country and it is the same story, lack of support, lack of belief and lack of care from the state, whilst teachers, social workers and community leaders scream for help.

The Government are claiming they are spending more on schools and education than ever before, a claim that they have since been ordered to revise due to the fact it is entirely misleading. They have shifted costs, altered budgets and ignored inflation.

They claim to be making changes, claim to be helping our most vulnerable. Yet on October 28th thousands of Headteachers presented Downing Street with a petition outlining their funding concerns, the DFE decided to produce yet more spin defending their stance.

Spin that was met with dismay, laughter (or tears) and outright anger. If they want to help, if they want to see change then start actually proving it.