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FABIAN SOCIETY

What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education

Louise Bamfield and Tim Horton


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The Fabian Society The Fabian Society is Britain’s leading left of centre think tank and political society, committed to creating the political ideas and policy debates which can shape the future of progressive politics. With over 300 Fabian MPs, MEPs, Peers, MSPs and AMs, the Society plays an unparalleled role in linking the ability to influence policy debates at the highest level with vigorous grassroots debate among our growing membership of over 7000 people, 70 local branches meeting regularly throughout Britain, an active Fabian Women’s Network, and a vibrant Young Fabian section organising its own activities. Fabian publications, events and ideas therefore reach and influence a wider audience than those of any comparable think tank. The Society is unique among think tanks in being a thriving, democratically-constituted membership organisation, affiliated to the Labour Party but organisationally and editorially independent. For over 120 years Fabians have been central to every important renewal and revision of left of centre thinking. The Fabian commitment to open and participatory debate is as important today as ever before as we explore the ideas, politics and policies which will define the next generation of progressive politics in Britain, Europe and around the world. Find out more at www.fabian-society.org.uk


Fabian Society 11 Dartmouth Street London SW1H 9BN www.fabian-society.org.uk Fabian Freethinking

First published September 2010 This paper, like all publications of the Fabian Society, represents not the collective views of the Society but only the views of the author. This publication may not be reproduced without express permission of the Fabian Society. British Library Cataloguing in Publication data. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education Louise Bamfield and Tim Horton

FABIAN SOCIETY


About the authors Louise Bamfield was Senior Research Fellow at the Fabian Society

from 2004-2009. She was the lead researcher on the Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Child Poverty, which investigated

some of the many ways in which poverty and disadvantage impact on children’s life chances, and co-authored the Commission’s final

report, Narrowing the Gap (Fabian Society, 2006). She has a doctorate from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of education.

Tim Horton is Research Director at the Fabian Society, Britain’s

leading left of centre think tank and political society, a position he has held since 2006. His areas of research expertise include social policy, economic and fiscal policy, political parties and democratic

reform, public attitudes and political philosophy. Prior to working at

the Fabian Society, Tim was a Special Adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry, and before that a policy analyst in HM Treasury.

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Acknowledgements

The research for this report was conducted by Louise Bamfield

(during 2008-2009) while she was Senior Research Fellow at the Fabian Society, and by Fabian Society Research Director Tim Horton

(during 2009-2010).

This report is published as part of the Fabian Society’s research programme Fighting Poverty and Inequality in an Age of Affluence, in

association with the Webb Memorial Trust. The Fabian Society would like to thank the Webb Memorial Trust for their kind support of this research programme, including this report.

The authors would like to thank the National Youth Agency for their

support of this research project and its work in earlier stages on the

role of non-formal education. The authors would also like to thank Serco for their support of this research project. Earlier stages of the

Fabian Society’s research on educational inequality were supported by the Dartmouth Street Trust.

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This report is one of a series from the Fabian Society’s research programme Fighting Poverty and Inequality in an Age of Affluence, in association with the Webb Memorial Trust. The research programme commemorates the centenary of a landmark contribution to social justice: Beatrice Webb’s Minority Report to the Poor Law Reform Commission. The Minority Report first set out the vision, arguments and values of social justice that were to become the foundations of the modern welfare state. It challenged the dominant assumption that the poor were solely to blame for their own poverty, demonstrating that the causes of poverty are structural as well as individual, and argued that society has a collective responsibility to prevent poverty, not merely alleviate it. The programme seeks to influence the ideas, policies and arguments of government and the major political parties through a series of publications, lectures and seminars. In the spirit of Beatrice Webb's central concern with winning public support for change, the research also explores public attitudes towards measures to tackle poverty and inequality, to investigate what must be done to build a public consensus for making a socially just society a reality. Thanks to members of the programme advisory group. The views contained in this report are those of the authors only. Rushanara Ali Young Foundation; Mike Brewer Institute for Fiscal Studies; Kate Green Child Poverty Action Group; Lisa Harker Daycare Trust/ IPPR; Peter Kellner YouGov; Peter Kenway New Policy Institute; Barry Knight (chair) Webb Memorial Trust; Jane Lewis LSE; Seema Malhotra Price Waterhouse Coopers; Audrey Mullender Ruskin College, Oxford; Jane Roberts Parenting UK; Karen Rowlingson University of Birmingham; Shamit Saggar University of Sussex; Nicholas Timmins FT; Polly Toynbee Guardian; Stuart White Jesus College, Oxford.

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For more information about Fighting Poverty and Inequality in an Age of Affluence, visit the Fabian Society’s website at: www.fabians.org.uk/research Earlier reports in this programme included: • From the Workhouse to Welfare (ed. Ed Wallis, Feb 2009) In the Mix (James Gregory, Apr 2009) • The Solidarity Society (Tim Horton & James Gregory, Dec 2009) •

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education

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Contents Executive Summary

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Mind the gap: educational inequality in Britain today

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2

What’s fair? The principles of a fair education system

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Who cares? What the public thinks is fair

37

4

Learning the lessons for politics and policy

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Conclusion: Building a public consensus for more fundamental reform

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Endnotes

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education

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Executive Summary

E

ducational inequality is the popular crusade that never was. Thousands have marched in protest against important issues like the hunting ban, airport expansions or the price of fuel. But there has been no angry mob of citizens descending on Downing Street to demand action to close the education gap. Perhaps the closest we have come to popular protests about educational inequality has been student demonstrations against the introduction of university tuition fees. But even here, the broader case for tackling inequality has not been made. It is true that the gap in children’s life chances has been rising up the political and policy agenda over the last few years. In the last Parliament, the previous Labour Government demonstrated a fresh wave of interest and concern about the size of the class gaps in opportunity and outcomes. But, in the main, there is no widespread sense of moral outrage against the scale and durability of educational inequality. When alarm bells ring about the state of education in Britain today, it is generally a different set of issues which attract most attention. While there is frequent coverage of concerns around alleged falling standards, failing schools, failing pupils and a ‘dumbed-down’ curriculum, stories about the routine, systematic transmission of educational advantage and disadvantage do not generate headlines in the same way.

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education Mind the gap This lack of public concern exists despite a powerful body of evidence detailing the scale and extent of educational inequality, and some of this evidence is set out in Chapter 1. Research studies show a clear class gap in children and young people’s attainment, which emerges early and then widens by the end of primary school. It gets stronger still as pupils progress through secondary school, leading to clear class differences in the pathways into further and higher education and beyond that into employment. Analysis demonstrates that the gaps in attainment and qualifications by the ages of 16 and 18 are so important because of what they mean for children’s future life chances. Prior attainment is the single biggest factor predicting future outcomes. But the attainment gap is only half the story. There is also an opportunity gap: inequalities continue to exist in children’s access to enriching and stimulating learning activities, both inside and outside the home. These are the kinds of stimulating experiences that, in addition to developing core cognitive skills, foster confidence and independence, and promote social interaction. As we shall see, the gap in children’s learning opportunities early in life is compounded by inequalities in their learning experiences at school and beyond, which then translate into unequal outcomes in formal tests of attainment as well as in later life outcomes.

What’s fair? To what extent are these differences in educational opportunities and outcomes unfair? After all, clearly not all differences in how pupils are treated, or in the resources allocated for their education, constitute an injustice. Part of the task in deciding what is fair in education, then, is deciding how to balance ‘equality’ with ‘difference’, that is, deciding when fairness demands equal treatment and when is it fair to treat individuals differently.

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Executive Summary So what would a fair system look like? It may seem naïve even to pose the question. Arguably it is more useful to find out ‘what works’, rather than to envisage what would be ideally fair, under conditions that we cannot possibly hope to replicate. But a ‘what works’ approach only raises the question of what the objectives of education policy are – and to what extent concerns about inequality should weigh in our decisionmaking when reforming the system. To explore the principles of fairness that should guide educational reform, Chapter 2 considers three possible models of a fair education system, each based on a distinct philosophy: a meritocratic system, a comprehensive system and a choice-based system. By drawing out the core principles and assumptions that underpin each model, the analysis asks whether or not such a model would be fair and examines a number of common objections. As we argue, fairness does not consist in any single one of these idealised models. There are elements of each that it will be important to try to capture. The challenge is how to extract what is intuitively persuasive and powerful about each model, whilst avoiding the accompanying disadvantages and distortions. We conclude this chapter by drawing on the analysis to identify some ‘fairness tests’ for the education system, against which the credentials of any new proposal can be assessed: •

First, policy proposals should pass a basic test of closing gaps in attainment and participation between those from more and less advantaged backgrounds. Far more needs to

be done to break the link between family background and educational attainment. This demands that resources are

used to promote the life chances of all children, whilst boosting the attainment of children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that the gaps in attainment and participation start to narrow.

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education •

Second, at an institutional and classroom level, fairness demands enough diversity of provision to ensure diverse

needs are met, but, crucially, without systematically separating, labelling or stigmatising pupils . This is essential to honour the principles of equal citizenship and equal status on which our education system must be based.

Third, educational structures and processes must be able to show that they are able to create proper incentives to moti-

vate and inspire learners, as well as rewarding effort and achievement – without allowing the system to be distorted in favour of the most privileged.

more extensive form of choice – to give every person more choice and control over when and how they learn throughout their lives , not just Fourth, fairness also demands a

limited to compulsory schooling. •

promote greater engagement and interaction between people from different social backgrounds. Diversity of provision and choice must not

Fifth, a fairer education system would do much more to

come at the expense of social inclusion and integration.

Who cares? And yet, despite the wealth of data on the gaps in education, making the case for tackling educational inequality poses a considerable challenge. The bare facts about inequality do not always speak for themselves, lacking the element of surprise – the ‘wow’ factor needed to really grab people’s attention. When focus groups conducted for this project spelled out the class gaps in education to members of the public, what is most apparent is how unremarkable they found them and how unsurprised people were to hear that children from more advantaged backgrounds end up in more advantaged positions.

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Executive Summary Have we as a society become immune to inequality? Perhaps, in today’s unequal society, the pattern of unequal chances has become so familiar that it fosters a sense of indifference rather than indignation. In fact, our research finds that people do have views about fairness in education: they are neither oblivious to the current pattern of educational chances, nor indifferent. But their views are also ambivalent, because they view the issues concerned through different ‘lenses’ – as citizens, parents and workers – and bring different principles with them in each case. Chapter 3 briefly reports on attitudes research conducted for the project, which explores people’s judgements about fairness in education and the factors that underpin these judgements.

Learning the lessons for politics and policy In Chapter 4, building on the analysis of previous chapters, we identify a number of reforms to the education system that would help to narrow the gaps in educational outcomes and experiences, focussing on four different stages of the education system: the early years; compulsory schooling; transitions to adulthood, including tertiary education; and training during working life. We also evaluate a number of reforms currently being proposed. The new Coalition Government has said it will place fairness and social justice at the heart of its agenda for government. And the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has unveiled a series of reforms with the express intention of helping improve outcomes for disadvantaged groups. In this chapter, we apply the fairness tests set out in Chapter 2 to assess the new Government’s headline education policies. To what extent do the proposals – the new Pupil Premium, the expansion of the Academies programme and the introduction of new ‘free schools’, alongside the ‘refocusing’ of Sure Start children’s centres – pass the most basic of fairness tests, to narrow the gaps in pupil attainment and participation?

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education Briefly, we conclude that: •

The new Government’s emphasis on promoting children’s development in the early years of life is welcome. But in ‘refocusing’ provision in Sure Start Children’s Centres, the risk is that services will be

withdrawn from low-income families living in less deprived areas, that some of those in the most vulnerable groups will continue to be missed, and that the gains from a popular universal service will be undermined. There are compelling reasons to uphold a universal

service – not only to provide important assistance to middle-income families, but also because a non-stigmatising service is likely to be more effective at bringing in the neediest families; and because the broader social mix in children’s centres means that children from more disadvantaged families are able to benefit from social interaction with a wider cross section of their peers. •

The proposal to create a ‘pupil premium’ – giving schools extra funding for more disadvantaged pupils – is a laudable move to ensure more resources are directed towards the most disadvantaged pupils. The priority for the short term is to recognise that some

schools will need further support to ensure that they make use of additional resources in the fairest and most effective way. Without

this, the risk is that some schools may not use the extra resources in an optimum way and the attainment gaps will not be closed. It is also important to ensure there are mechanisms in place to ensure that schools are accountable for spending the extra resources effectively. •

Regarding the expansion of the Academies programme, the proposal

small proportion of schools recently judged as outstanding can be categorised as having a disadvantaged intake. Given the very different capabilities and resources that parents

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to fast-track schools rated as ‘outstanding’ will be bound to benefit a far greater proportion of less disadvantaged schools, since only a


Executive Summary and pupils have to take advantage of choice and diversity within education, the proposal to create a new generation of ‘free schools’

risks introducing a dynamic into our already-divided schools system that could increase and entrench segregation between different social groups. Conclusion Finally, in the Conclusion, we consider the challenge of winning some of the political arguments for education reform. In particular, the politics of a more mixed and inclusive education system are difficult, to say the least. That is why the approach envisaged in this report is deliberately a long-term one, motivated by consensusbuilding. Imposing changes across the whole system in a ‘top-down’ way is bound to be politically unsustainable if they are not seen as fair and generate anxiety for many. Entrenching change is only possible by gaining public support for reforms and establishing consensus within communities about the underlying objectives of mix and equality. We shouldn’t be pessimistic about the prospect of achieving such a consensus, but doing so requires a long-term and subtle strategy to address the causes of parental anxiety about education. Importantly, simply regurgitating the data about the class gaps in education is not enough to win the political argument for removing inequalities within the system. While egalitarians may of course be convinced of the case for action, simply having a ‘say it louder’ version of traditional egalitarian arguments for reform won’t achieve this. We suggest three priorities here: •

The first task for campaigners is to overcome people’s sense of fatalism and inevitability by showing that inequalities in education are not fixed or immutable. International evidence can be a powerful resource here, as can the most inspiring examples of local success.

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education •

Second, we need to tackle the underlying fear and anxiety among ‘middle-class’ parents of more socially-mixed schools. A large part of this is about the narrative we use in education. Discussions about ‘standards’ and ‘educational failure’, which speak to legitimate concerns about the quality of education, are in practice often elided with a more visceral set of concerns about the state of Britain, crime, ‘feral children’ and a range of other moral panics. As a result, something very toxic has happened in the public politics of education, where very large social groups, like ‘low-income households’ or those from ‘disadvantaged areas’, are often conflated with very small social groups with extreme behaviours, such as ‘chaotic families’ or those engaged in anti-social behaviour. So we need a new kind of narrative about educational inequality – one that reduces the social distance between disadvantaged pupils and everyone else, rather than increasing it – and this must go hand in hand with measures to promote more mixed communities outside the school gates. A strong driving force that maintains divisions and inequalities within our education system is a belief on the part of many politicians, decision-makers and practitioners that such divisions and inequalities are inevitable. Politicians often say there’s a problem with ‘poverty of aspiration’ in Britain. Well there is: a profound lack of ambition among too many of our political class for disadvantaged kids. Only when we stop thinking about the education

system in ways that anticipate division and failure, and only when we stop expecting children from different backgrounds to follow different pathways, will we really be able to get to grips with some of the long-entrenched inequalities in our education system.

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1 | Mind the gap: educational inequality in Britain today

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he facts about educational inequality at key stages of the life course are well established. In its last term in office, Labour’s education policy focused more explicitly than ever before on narrowing the gaps in pupil attainment between children from more and less disadvantaged backgrounds. Analysis of attainment gaps by the (then) Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) was bolstered by authoritative independent reviews of the research evidence on inequality and disadvantage.1 These studies, focusing on the drivers of intergenerational disadvantage, social, educational and health inequalities and stalled social mobility, tell a compelling story about the state of educational disadvantage and inequality in the UK today. The research evidence shows that the social class gap in attainment – as measured by pupil eligibility for free school meals (FSM)2 – emerges early and then widens by the end of primary school. It gets stronger still as pupils progress through secondary school, leading to clear class differences in the pathways into further and higher education and beyond that into employment.3 Analysis demonstrates that the gaps in attainment and qualifications by the ages of 16 and 18 are so important because of what they mean for children’s future life chances.4 Prior attainment is the single biggest factor predicting future outcomes.5

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education But the attainment gap is only half the story. There is also the opportunity gap: inequalities continue to exist in children’s access to enriching and stimulating learning activities, both inside and outside the home. These are the kinds of experiences that, in addition to developing core cognitive skills, foster confidence and independence, and promote social interaction. As we shall see, the gap in children’s learning opportunities early in life is compounded by inequalities in their learning experiences at school and beyond, which then translate into unequal outcomes both in formal tests of attainment as well as later life outcomes.

Analysing the gaps The gap in attainment emerges early and then widens Children from different socio-economic backgrounds tend to display different levels of language ability, communication and social development. As evidence from Millennium Cohort Study reveals, a class gap in children’s development has emerged by the time children are just two years old. By the age of three, some children from more deprived families are lagging a full year behind their more advantaged peers in terms of cognitive and social development.6 And by the time they start school, children display quite marked differences in terms of their attainment in key outcomes: •

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As analysis by DCSF shows, during the foundation stage, the odds of a non-FSM pupil achieving at least 6 points in tests of communication, language and literacy are 2.5 times that of a FSM pupil. The attainment gap then widens by the end of Key Stage 1 and is maintained during Key Stage 2. By the end of Key Stage 1, the odds of pupils who receive free school meals achieving good outcomes (defined as level 2 in reading, writing and maths) are three times less than non-FSM pupils.


Mind the gap •

The gap widens further during secondary school. In national tests of attainment at age 11 (Key Stage 2), the odds of FSM pupils reaching the expected standard are three times less than their peers, widening slightly during secondary school to 3.5 times less at ages 14 and 16 (Key Stages 3 and 4). This ‘odds ratio’ is still three-to-one on entry to university.7

Why the gaps matter These class gaps in educational attainment are so important because childhood deprivation and disadvantage have a significant impact on later outcomes in adulthood. Inequalities in educational outcomes have important impacts on people’s health and well-being, quality of life, as well as future income, employment and living standards. The Marmot Review highlights the strong relationship between inequalities in education outcomes and the social gradient in physical and mental health.8 And as analysis for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown, there is a very clear pathway from childhood disadvantage to reduced employment opportunities, with earnings estimated to be reduced by between 15 and 28 per cent and the probability of being in employment at age 34 reduced by 9 between 4 and 7 per cent.

Why do the gaps exist? 1) There is a gap in access to stimulating learning experiences in the early years of life The class gap in learning and development begins early in life, even before children enter the classroom. However, as Leon Feinstein’s wellknown analysis of the cohort of children born in 1970 demonstrates, these class differences are not innate but acquired. Feinstein’s analysis

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education

GRAPH: Cognitive test scores by age and social class, for the cohort of children born in 1970 (adapted from

the National Equality Panel report, 2010). As can be seen, lower social class children who were initially

1970 cohort

62

82

Low Social class bottom quarter Low Social class top quarter

102

122

assessed in the top quarter of ability are gradually overtaken by higher social class children who were

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initially assessed in the bottom quarter.

100 90

80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 22

Age (months) High Social class bottom quarter High Social class top quarter

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Mind the gap reveals that initially high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds (who performed well in early tests of cognitive development at 22 months) on average tend to fall behind children from more advantaged backgrounds, who initially performed less well.10 This is illustrated in the graph on the left. So, for the 1970 cohort, initial gains in children’s early cognitive development were soon outweighed by the impact of family factors and parents’ socio-economic status. Worryingly, the effect of social class appears to be just as strong today: the data for the cohort of children born in 2000 indicates the same pattern of outcomes in their early years development as that of earlier cohorts.11 So what has happened to affect the chances of children from more deprived backgrounds so dramatically by the age of five? And why do these gaps widen as children progress through the school system? Below we look at several contributing factors. Beginning in the early years of a child’s life, parents with greater assets and resources – both educational and financial – are generally able to provide more stimulating and enriching activities within the home.12 As the Marmot Review of health inequalities reports, parents are the most important ‘educators’ of their children for both cognitive and non-cognitive skills.13 Literacy and language difficulties in primary school are often a symptom of early disadvantage, as well as being a cause of later educational inequality. Children’s development is also importantly affected by the emotional support and encouragement they receive, particularly from their family and close personal relationships. Recent analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study demonstrates that parents’ capacity to provide a warm and nurturing environment, together with an engaged and structured parenting style, has important effects on children’s social, emotional and personal development by age five.14 More widely, children’s development is affected by the understandings, ways of behaving, and attitudes of parents and significant others – commonly understood as forms of social and cultural capital.15

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education The focus of this report is on the education system itself, so proposals to improve the stimulus and support that children receive within the home environment will be beyond the scope of later chapters. But it is worth noting here that this agenda will clearly be a hugely important component of any strategy to narrow the gaps in educational attainment. These differences in the home environment are often compounded by unequal access to enriching learning experiences outside the home, particularly those provided by high-quality early years education in formal settings such as Sure Start children’s centres. While good early years provision is good for all children, it is particularly important for children from deprived backgrounds, since it has a disproportionately positive impact on their development.16 In practice, gaps in access to high quality early years provision result in a double disadvantage, since those who would most benefit from stimulating early learning activities are those least likely to access them.17

2) There is a gap in access to well-resourced, highperforming schools Marked differences also exist in children’s access to well-resourced and high-performing schools. Where children live strongly affects the range and (perceived) quality of schools available to them; and crucially, where children live and go to school is strongly shaped by their parents’ level of resources.18 As research demonstrates, whereas parents on higher incomes can afford to move to areas with the most popular and highly performing schools, parents on the lowest incomes are not so fortunate.19 Analysis of school performance, distance travelled to school and family income shows that as the performance of the local school becomes lower, children from affluent families are less likely to go there. Focusing on schools in the bottom quarter of the national league table, a pupil eligible for free school meals is 30 per cent more likely to attend their low-scoring local school than an otherwise-identical pupil from a

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Mind the gap better-off family.20 Of course, here it is important to emphasise that ‘school quality’ as measured by placing in standard league tables is not a full or accurate reflection of the actual quality of a school, which can be better demonstrated through more sophisticated measures of performance (for example, their ‘value added’ score). There is a strong correlation between levels of deprivation in an area and the number of schools that inspectors have placed in ‘special measures’ because they are judged not to supply an acceptable level of education. In 2006, over thirty per cent of schools in the poorest local authority areas (the bottom ten per cent on an index of multiple deprivation) were in special measures, as compared to less than five per cent in the richest three deciles. The consequence is that children living in areas of higher deprivation are far more likely to attend schools that perform less well. Again, it is important to stress that many schools located in more deprived areas demonstrate good or outstanding levels of teaching and pupil performance, as measured by Ofsted inspections and valueadded scores. (Later on we discuss the damaging effect of unwarranted generalisations about schools in disadvantaged areas, including the tendency to describe such schools or the pupils who attend them as ‘failing’.) But the general pattern remains that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds are least likely to access the schools judged to be outstanding. Analysis of data from every secondary school in England provides clear evidence of a strong underlying relationship between their GCSE performance and their social mix of pupils.21 Children from middleclass families are over-represented at the most successful and highest status schools, while children from more disadvantaged backgrounds are vastly over-represented at the lowest ranking, lowest status schools. Research by the Sutton Trust backs this up, showing that the vast majority of the top 100 state schools in England have low proportions of children on free school meals compared with both local and national levels.22

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education Unequal access to well-resourced schools matters because research shows the difference that schools can make to pupils’ learning and outcomes. Of course, schooling is only one of a number of factors that influence outcomes. Arguably, other factors, such as the stimulus provided in the home environment, are just as influential, if not more. But schooling is clearly important. Assessing the intergenerational transmission of educational success, Feinstein and colleagues investigated the role of the school and concluded that there is strong and robust evidence to suggest that schools are independently important for children’s outcomes. And as the 2009 DCSF review of education and deprivation concludes, there is also evidence to suggest that some schools are more effective than others.23 Crucially, in terms of their effectiveness, some schools are much better resourced than others, not just in terms of funding, but in terms of the quality of teaching and facilities, as well as being ‘better resourced’ in terms of peer group influences and social networks. And unequal access to the highest-ranking, most popular schools translates into unequal access to the range of resources in those schools – of which teaching quality is a critical component.24 Importantly, research shows that pupils from deprived backgrounds are typically less likely to experience good quality teaching.25 Research also shows that teacher turnover tends to be higher in schools with above average eligibility for free school meals,26 a consequence of the “higher workload and stress involved in teaching children from deprived backgrounds for whom behavioural problems are more common.”27 So pupils from lower-income families are not only more likely to attend the lowestranking, least popular schools, they are also more likely to experience lower quality teaching, more teacher shortages and higher teacher turnover. Finally, a significant gap also exists in the kinds of learning activities and experiences that children are able to access outside of school. Research shows differences in the level and type of young people’s leisure activity by household income and age group. In the National Foundation for Educational Research’s assessment of learning activities outside the classroom, secondary school pupils in areas of high deprivation and in

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Mind the gap schools with higher proportions of pupils with special educational needs were less likely to be offered opportunities for such experiences than other pupils.28 Similarly, research also demonstrates that more affluent young people were more likely to attend organised activities after school, while those on free school meals were generally more reliant on provision within school. Differences were found for older age groups in this regard: in Year 9 (age 14-15), the range of organised activities available for young people on free school meals was more limited than for the younger cohort in Year 6 (age 11-12).29

3) There are gaps in participation in higher education Students from lower income families are far less likely to go on to university. Only 13 per cent of free school meal pupils go on to higher education, compared to 32 per cent of those not receiving them.30 There seem to be various factors involved here. First, participation in higher education is very closely linked to prior attainment at GCSE.31 So inequalities in the latter feed into inequalities in the former. But there is a further dimension here beyond prior attainment. As the 2010 National Equality Panel Report details, free school meals students with results at the top of the range are less likely to go on to higher education than non-free school meals students with the same results – by more than 10 percentage points for the highest achievers. It appears that students from lower-income families face additional hurdles and barriers to participation. Here, cost may be an important factor: after the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, the participation gap between students from higher and lower socio-economic backgrounds widened from 28 percentage points in 1998 to 31 percentage points in 2001. It should also be noted that there are class gaps in the type of institution students attend. Stephen Machin and colleagues found that of students completing higher education in 2002-03, more than 40 per cent of those with professional parents went to Russell Group universities, compared to less than a quarter of those with manual, semi-skilled or unskilled parents.32

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education 4) There are gaps in adults’ access to learning and training There are various inequalities in adults’ access to learning and training, of which perhaps the most significant is access to training in the workplace. Again, prior attainment is a strong predictor of access to training at work, with lower qualified workers facing by far the greatest barriers in accessing training. According to data from the Labour Force Survey, just 9 per cent of employees without a qualification are offered regular training (a figure that has remained relatively static over the last decade). This compares with 24 per cent of those with a Level 2 qualification (GCSEs); 27 per cent of those with a Level 3 qualification (A levels); and 38 per cent of those with a degree.33 So graduate employees are four times more likely to be offered training by their employer than those without any qualifications are. Another factor highlighted by the recent National Equality Panel report is the inequality in access to training between those in full-time and parttime jobs; as the report argues, the lack of opportunities for training and progression in many part-time jobs is symptomatic of a broader failure to value part-time work sufficiently. Another recent report by the TUC summarises the situation well: despite improvements in the provision available to employees over the last decade, “access to workplace training remains a pipedream for many employees and especially those in greatest need of improving their skills”. In this way, inequalities in access to training in adult life compound the socioeconomic inequalities examined in previous sections. *

*

*

Having looked at a range of inequalities in attainment, experiences and opportunities within the education system, we turn in the next chapter to ask what a fair education system might look like in practice, and how we might use different ideas about fairness to think about policy reform.

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2 | What’s fair? The principles of a fair education system

T

o what extent are differences in educational opportunities and outcomes unfair? After all, clearly not all differences in how pupils are treated, or in the resources allocated for their education, constitute an injustice. Fairness is not synonymous with equality, in the sense of treating children in a strictly equal or identical way; in many cases, fairness demands differential treatment in order to take account of people’s diverse and non-identical needs. Part of the task in deciding what is fair in education, then, is deciding how to balance ‘equality’ with ‘difference’, that is, deciding when fairness demands equal treatment and when is it fair to treat individuals differently. To explore the principles of fairness that should guide educational reform, in this chapter we consider three possible models of a fair education system: a meritocratic system, a comprehensive system and a choice-based system. As we set out below, each model is based on a distinct philosophy – a particular set of principles, values and distributive norms, as well as a distinct account of the purpose of education. By drawing out the core principles and assumptions that underpin each model, the analysis asks whether or not such a model would be fair and examines a number of common objections.35 As we argue here, fairness does not consist in any single one of these idealised models. There are elements of each that it will be important to try to capture. The challenge then is how to extract what is intuitively


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education persuasive and powerful about each model, whilst avoiding the accompanying disadvantages and distortions. We conclude by drawing on this analysis to identify some ‘fairness tests’ for the education system, against which the credentials of any new proposal can be assessed.

Deciding what’s fair: distributive norms and principles Jennifer Hochschild, in her classic work What's Fair: American Beliefs about Distributive Justice (1981), distinguishes between different principles and norms of distributive justice, which embody different starting assumptions about the claim people can legitimately make on resources. In some cases, judgements about fairness and justice will begin from a principle of equality, based on a core assumption that all people may legitimately make the same claims on social resources, regardless of differences in gender, ethnicity, class or other individual characteristics. In its simplest form, it means giving every person exactly the same resources; in a more complex form, differences in treatment can be justified providing that they respect the fundamental equality of persons (for example, in some contexts where different levels of resources are allocated to meet different needs). In other cases, people’s judgements about fairness begin from a principle of differentiation, based on a core assumption that people are inevitably different in ways that usually call for unequal allocations of resources. In its simplest form, one of ‘ascription’, this principle means that individuals with different innate characteristics (such as gender, ethnicity, class and so on) can legitimately make different claims on social resources. In a more complex form, differences of treatment may be justified according to differences in individuals’ behaviour or results. In these latter cases, fairness is often linked with personal responsibility, according to which some people can justly have more than others by virtue of their differential efforts, abilities or contributions.

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What’s fair? Thus, different distributive norms can be thought of as lying along a continuum from ‘sameness’ to ‘differentiating’, ranging at one end from egalitarian norms of identical treatment and need, through norms of investment, effort and results, to norms of pure ascription at the other end. Cutting across this continuum are other values such as freedom of choice and concern for efficiency. Deciding what is fair in education is so often difficult and controversial because any decision about educational resources is likely to entail trade-offs between different norms and values. Thus, for example, people may agree that individuals with greater educational needs deserve additional resources – but disagree either about the definition of ‘need’, or about the amount of additional resource that can reasonably be justified on the grounds of cost and efficiency. In addition to distributive norms, people also draw on procedural norms in making judgements about a fair way of allocating goods and resources. Some procedures, such as lotteries, assume equality of persons; others, such as market mechanisms, are based on differences (such as differences in demand or purchasing power). Often, the appropriateness of a procedure will depend upon the good in question: for example, a process of fair and open competition would be appropriate to use in making decisions between candidates applying for the same job, but would not generally be considered appropriate in making decisions about which patient should receive a limited medical resource such as an organ transplant. It is important to note that people tend to draw on different norms and values in different ‘spheres’ or domains of life: the socialising domain of ‘everyday’ life, in which, for example, parents make decisions relating to their own children’s well-being; the political domain, in which decisions are made about the overall distribution of resources; and the economic domain, which addresses issues of earning a living, competing for jobs, and finding one’s place in society. Hochschild’s research suggests that people tend to use egalitarian norms (of identical treatment or need) in the socialising and

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education political domains, and differentiating norms (results-based or ascriptive norms) in the economic domain. Where does education fit in? Educational decisions fall under different, overlapping domains, and different distributive and procedural norms are perceived to be appropriate at different levels and in different phases of education. For example, a different set of norms may be called upon in making decisions about the most appropriate arrangements for the education of younger children as compared to that of older students and adult learners. Furthermore, this analytic framework helps explain ambivalence in people’s own views of fairness in education: when education is viewed as an economic matter, people tend to argue from a principle of differentiation (such as the principle of personal responsibility), drawing on distributive norms which may have disequalising effects; when it is viewed as a political matter, people tend to argue from a principle of equal citizenship or equal concern, drawing on egalitarian norms which are more likely to have redistributive effects. Importantly, part of what makes political debates about fairness in education so contested is that what for some people is a political question is for other people an individual or economic question. As we argue below, this explains why different political discourses around education can be hugely significant in how they affect people’s judgements about fairness, by encouraging them to draw on the norms of a particular domain. So, for example, the political narrative around ‘choice’ tends to bring educational issues into the (private) domain of market consumption, with significant consequences for the norms and values people then apply.

Exploring principles of fairness: three competing models of a fair education system In this section we consider three possible notions of a fair education system: a meritocratic system, a comprehensive system and a choicebased system. As we set out below, each model is based on a distinct philosophy – a particular set of principles, values and distributive

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What’s fair? norms, as well as a distinct account of the purpose of education. These are, if you want, ‘ideal types’ (though they also loosely relate to different waves of education reform set out in the box further below); in practice, elements of different models can and do co-exist within the same system. In addition, each model also embodies different assumptions about the drivers of human behaviour, and also the consequences of different kinds of social interaction. By drawing out the core principles and assumptions that underpin each model, the analysis then asks whether or not such a model would be fair and examines a number of common objections.

(i) A meritocratic education system

The principle of meritocracy The defining feature of a meritocratic system is that positions of trust and responsibility should be earned rather than inherited. Although originally intended as a warning by its inventor, Michael Young, the idea of meritocracy has a wide resonance because it accords with many people’s innate sense of fairness, based around a belief in personal responsibility – the belief that people should be rewarded for the efforts and contribution they make and the capacities they possess. For many, ‘meritocratic’ is treated as synonymous with ‘fair’. And indeed, compared to some of the alternatives – aristocracy, nepotism, plutocracy or cronyism – a meritocratic model offers distinct advantages. A meritocratic method of recruiting and promoting individuals in the workplace, for example, which recognises and rewards people’s effort and ability, is more obviously fair than granting (or withholding) access to jobs on the basis of birth, family connections, wealth or social influence.37

Features of a meritocratic system Applied to education, a meritocratic system would ensure that individuals were rewarded for their efforts and abilities, rather than on the basis of educationally irrelevant factors such as family background,

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education parental income or social status. Arguably, it would also ensure that children had the same chances of developing their capacities. In practice, the meritocratic principle could be realised through a variety of institutional structures and teaching arrangements at school level and beyond. The key question is to decide when or at what stage of education it is fair to decide places on the basis of open competition, for example through a test or examination designed to identify relevant abilities. One option would be for a test of academic selection to be made at the transition to secondary school, at age eleven. Another option would be to delay selecting individuals by academic ability until they have reached a higher level of education, for example at transition to university or further education.

Advantages of a meritocratic system The meritocratic principle is a powerful one in education, which accords with a basic, intuitive belief that people should be rewarded for their efforts and contribution. As set out in the box below, the idea that educational places and opportunities should be decided on the basis of ability and talent, not wealth and status, has underpinned successive waves of educational reform in the post-war period. From an economic perspective, allocating educational resources and rewards on the basis of ‘merit’ or demonstrated ability has the advantage of being more efficient than alternatives. A fully meritocratic system of education would therefore have the considerable advantage of being both ambition-sensitive and endowment-insensitive. It would be sensitive to people’s ambitions, by recognising the contribution they make, and providing the incentives to develop and strive to succeed. And it would be insensitive to people’s family background, parental income or social status – in contrast to an elite private school system, based on parents’ ability to pay.

Objections to a meritocratic system Despite the attractions of a fully meritocratic system in theory, a

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What’s fair? number of strong objections are voiced against attempts to establish a meritocratic system in practice. In the British education system, the idea of meritocracy has traditionally been associated with an academically selective school system, based on an examination to assess ability at age eleven. Critics of academic selection argue that while open competition may be the fairest way to choose between candidates for, say, jobs in the labour market, it does not follow that it is a fair basis for the school system. One important set of objections here challenges the whole idea that children can be assessed and assigned into different categories of learner or types of intelligence, which call for different types of school or educational setting. In particular, such an idea may mistakenly assume that ability is naturally fixed or immutable. One concern here is that separating pupils into different institutions of varying status, according to the individual characteristics of pupils, has detrimental effects on pupils’ learning and negative effects on their self-esteem.38 Similarly, some would argue that if pupils are systematically divided into different teaching sets or streams at the year-group or classroom level, this risks creating negative ‘labelling’ effects. After all, if students are systematically organised into groups for a significant part of their day, the make up of these groups will also influence approaches to teaching style and curriculum, the allocation of learning support resources to different pupils, the nature of learning peer groups, and also very possibly the formation of friendship groups outside the classroom.39 Another, more practical point – and in our view a convincing one – is that it is not obvious that an academically selective school system is actually a meritocratic one at all. In practice, it may be impossible to separate children’s demonstrated ability from the markedly different array of resources that parents have at their disposal to promote their children’s learning and development. Where children are sorted, for example, at age eleven on the basis of demonstrated ability, it could be argued that what is actually being assessed is not their ‘true’ ability at

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education all (even if there is such a thing), but rather something that significantly reflects the influence of different parental resources and different home environments. Related to this, it may appear especially unfair to separate pupils into different types of school at too early an age, because it risks closing off options for the future. And selection by ability at an early age also appears unmeritocratic, because the relationship between family background and educational outcomes is particularly strong for younger children. Situations such as these actually offend against the core premise of meritocracy, which is to break the link with family background and so ensure that rewards are earned rather than inherited. It follows that an elite selective school system is only superficially meritocratic, because it reproduces the link between family background and educational outcome. In other words, it fails on its own terms - namely, that rewards should be earned rather than inherited. By contrast, a genuinely meritocratic school system would do far more to break the link between family background and educational opportunities and outcomes, by targeting resources more effectively at disadvantaged students to allow students to be evaluated on a level playing field. A genuinely meritocratic system would also aim to delay selection by ability until students are older.

Conclusion The meritocratic principle is a powerful one in education: a fully meritocratic system of education would offer the considerable advantage of being both sensitive to individuals’ talents, efforts and ambitions and insensitive to their inherited wealth or parents’ social position. But despite its widespread appeal, the problem with educational practices designed along supposedly meritocratic lines is that too often in practice they actually mask the extent to which family background factors still predominate. While the intention may be to widen access, the effect has often been to grant or withhold access to powerful and prestigious

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What’s fair? institutions on the basis of birth, family connections, parental income or social influence. In such cases, we are left with the worst of all worlds: a system that poses as meritocratic, whilst systematically reproducing social advantage and disadvantage.

(ii) A comprehensive education system

Principles behind the comprehensive ideal By contrast to the principle of meritocracy, a comprehensive model of education is guided by the principle of equal citizenship, and draws primarily on egalitarian norms of identical treatment and norms of need. At the heart of the comprehensive ideal is a belief that all people are worthy of equal respect and so deserve equal status. A comprehensive school system therefore embodies the values of social equality and citizenship, giving equal status to each school and every child. By insisting upon equality of institutions and an open system of admissions, without selection by ability, comprehensive schools and colleges aim to avoid both academic and social segregation. A comprehensive system also aims to forge a particular kind of outlook: a ‘communal’ culture in which people from all social groups interact freely and engage with one another as social equals, despite their material inequalities; and in which future lawyers and senior managers learn alongside future hairdressers and mechanics.40 As such, comprehensive education is based explicitly on a particular vision of a good society: one which is more open and less hierarchical, more cohesive and less socially divisive; and in which the school is at the centre of strong local communities.41

Features of a comprehensive system The equal entitlement of all individuals to primary and secondary education is something which is now universally recognised as a basic right of citizenship. The comprehensive ideal goes much further than this simple notion of equality, however, by stipulating that the values of

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education social equality and citizenship should be embedded in the institutional structure of the school system. For younger children, the comprehensive ideal would be realised through socially integrated and educationally inclusive nurseries and primary schools. For older children and young adults, it would be implemented through a network of community schools and colleges, with open, non-selective admissions processes and inclusive pedagogical and curricular practice. At the classroom level, the comprehensive ideal leans towards mixed-ability and whole-class teaching rather than sorting pupils into streams or sets, while favouring a common curriculum, to give all learners access to the same knowledge. In place of the institutional diversity and social division associated with a hierarchical selective system, a comprehensive system would therefore be both relatively homogeneous in terms of its institutional structure, and relatively heterogeneous with respect to schools’ pupil intake on the basis of ability, religion, ethnicity, gender and social class. Of course, in practice comprehensive systems will not be purely heterogenous with respect to pupil intake, since this is to some extent constrained by geography: pupils will attend nearby schools, whether in their neighbourhood or within reasonable travelling distance. School intake will therefore reflect the different make-up of different communities, and the degree of social mix within communities will be an important constraint on the ambitions of the comprehensive ideal.

Advantages of a comprehensive system A comprehensive system of education therefore aspires to be socially and educationally inclusive, and to achieve equality in educational experiences for children from different social backgrounds. Were such a system to be realised, it would offer a number of distinct advantages, notably a less hierarchical society and also enhanced social relations and cohesion stemming from more integrated schooling. In theory, this could have widespread beneficial consequences both for

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What’s fair? individuals’ general well-being and for improved societal outcomes (such as reduced social tensions, crime and anti-social behaviour). Importantly, a comprehensive school system would also help to avoid the damaging and stigmatising effects that can arise from ranking and sorting individuals into different institutional tiers or curriculum streams.

Objections to a comprehensive system For its critics, a comprehensive system is associated with drab uniformity and with the neglect of individual differences. There are a number of specific complaints. One is that a comprehensive system is unfair to pupils because it fails to cater for the full range of needs and abilities. A second, related, objection is that a comprehensive system is detrimental to students’ educational interests because it fails to provide the motivation and competitive environment needed for students to strive and excel and fails to reward individuals for the efforts that they make and the results they achieve. What, then, of the claim that comprehensive schooling treats children unfairly by treating them all alike? Defenders of a more variegated system ask how any single institution or teaching model, such as mixedability teaching, can cater for the whole ability range. At one end of the ability range, comprehensive schools are accused of holding back the most able pupils and of failing to provide sufficient incentives for students to strive and excel. In this sense, a comprehensive system is said to be both unfair in failing to provide adequate rewards for students’ different efforts and results, and inefficient in failing to provide the dynamic competitive environment needed to stimulate pupils to progress. At the other end of the range, a comprehensive system is charged with failing to provide adequately for pupils with learning difficulties, who demand more intensive and individualised forms of learning support. Thus, far from respecting the equal moral worth of every citizen, critics argue that the uniformity of a comprehensive system actually discriminates against some students, particularly those at either end of

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education the ability range, by failing to cater adequately for the full range of educational needs. This criticism is a serious one. But, in truth, it arises from a misreading of the comprehensive ideal. Although the comprehensive ideal makes strong claims about the value and importance of common institutions and curricular pathways, it does not adhere solely to a norm of strict equality or identical treatment, and does not insist on equality of resources in a narrow sense. Within a broadly homogenous institutional framework and a common curriculum, there is much scope for differentiation according to individuals’ particular learning needs. However, although the blanket criticism may not be valid, there is still an empirical question of the extent to which pupils with the full range of learning needs can be taught in the same institution. Similarly, within institutions, it is important to clarify how much differentiation is possible within a common curricular and pedagogical approach, and at what point in individuals’ educational development it may become necessary to allow differentiated institutional and curricular pathways. In practice, of course, it is possible to combine broadly homogenous institutions with a wide range of provision within the school, catering for a diverse range of learning needs. Certainly, at primary level, the vast majority of children already attend a local school which caters for a broad range of ability. The arguments for separate or specialist provision may become stronger for older students, though it is still possible to combine differentiated teaching with a common curriculum and institutions. At the top end of the ability range, it may well be justified to offer specialist provision to cater for pupils of exceptionally high ability. The argument for specialist institutions is perhaps strongest, however, in the case of pupils and students with more severe learning difficulties and special educational needs, since it may be the case that certain types of learning support and specialist provision are best provided outside mainstream institutions. From the point of view of a purist comprehensive ideal, this is problematic, since the aspiration is to be genuinely

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What’s fair? inclusive of all pupils, regardless of ‘disability, inability, difficult or different behaviour’. The worry is that separating children with the most severe learning needs leads to wider forms of social and educational exclusion, which have a detrimental effect on children’s psychological well-being as well as their educational development. But while it is important to be aware of these detrimental effects, it would clearly also be wrong to disallow any alternative or specialist provision to be made outside mainstream institutions. In all cases, the onus should be on mainstream and specialist providers to demonstrate the educational need for separate provision and to explain what steps are being taken to minimise the detrimental effects of being separated from other pupils.

Conclusion The comprehensive model therefore reminds us of the importance of having inclusive institutions, curricular and pedagogical practices, which embody the equal status of citizens, and which avoid the systematic separation of different schools and learners (and the stigmatisation that could result). However, as critics of a comprehensive model also remind us, educational structures and processes must be able to show that they are able to cater fully for different needs and create proper incentives to motivate and inspire learners. In practice, it is necessary to determine the degree of differentiation that is necessary to meet diverse needs and the extent to which this is possible to achieve within a common institutional and curricular framework.

(iii) A choice-based education system

The principle of parental choice A further common objection to both a comprehensive and an academically selective system is that both types of system treat parents and pupils unfairly by denying them a choice of school. The case for a choice-based system begins with the idea that parents and pupils have

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education a right to choose in education and schooling, as well as reflecting a broad belief in the value of cultural pluralism and institutional diversity. As well as supporting a right to choose, many advocates of choice adhere to a belief that parents are better placed to judge what type of school is appropriate for their child than education professionals or local authority officials.

Features of a choice-based system Applied to the secondary school system, the principle of ‘choice’ requires both a parent-led admissions process and a range of institutions for parents to choose between. Although choice is not synonymous with institutional diversity, in practice, it is difficult to see how school choice can exist without some distinctive differences between the schools on offer. If meaningfuk choice presupposes a sufficient level of diversity, in what ways could schools offer distinctive choices? Arguably greater choice could be offered by allowing for much greater variety in the content of the curriculum and in teaching methods; by opening up the market to a wide range of providers; or by enabling greater cultural and educational pluralism in the outlook and ethos of schools – which could, for example, extend beyond faith schools to encompass humanist schools, or schools which embody a distinctive set of ethical principles (such as environmental sustainability). While much of the debate here is around choice of secondary school, we should remember that ‘choice’ could operate at all phases of education, from choice of childcare and primary school, to choice of further education college or university. In each case, the nature of that choice would depend on the admissions policy operated by each institution, as well as flexibility in the supply of places.

Advantages of choice-based systems Proponents of a choice-based system highlight a number of instrumental reasons for widening choice in education, as well as upholding

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What’s fair? the intrinsic value of giving individual learners and families greater choice over where they access education. The business case for extending parental choice in schooling rests on the alleged advantages of a market mechanism – namely, the competitive pressures which incentivise organisations to become more efficient and to improve their services in order to attract customers. Another key advantage is held to be that of promoting greater equity: proponents of a choice-based school admissions process assert that deciding places on the basis of parental choice or preference is a fairer way than allocating on the basis of on neighbourhood or residence (as in community schools) or one based on ability (as in a selective system). Indeed, proponents of parental choice often assert that a choice-based system would actually reduce the ‘sorting’ or segregation of students as compared to other systems.

Objections to choice-based systems Critics question the extent to which a choice-based mechanism in education is able to promote efficiency and greater social equity in practice. One common set of criticisms of choice-based systems is on grounds of inefficiency. For choice to be meaningful, it presupposes more than one available option – and, in practice, surplus capacity. Without the necessary capacity, ‘choice’ often ends up simply meaning the opportunity to express a preference about which services to use; it does not necessarily follow that users will actually get the option that they prefer. Providing meaningful choice therefore requires considerable extra spending on service capacity. In these contexts, there will clearly be a trade-off between the degree of choice and the efficiency of service provision. Some of the strongest criticisms of a choice-based school system are made on the grounds of inequality. The argument goes that consumerled provision is problematic because different people have radically different capabilities to make informed choices and because the

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education system brings with it the chance for those with greater resources (both financial and non-financial) to ’play the system’ for the benefit of their own children.44 There are particular concerns that such systems may exacerbate inequality if starting from a point where the underlying conditions in society are already highly unequal. Concerns are heightened because choice and institutional diversity are combined with status differences: in reality, parents are not choosing between a variety of institutions of equal status, but a ranked hierarchy of institutions of higher and lower status.45 What is objectionable therefore is not the diversity of institutional type per se, but the differences in status and ranking between those institutions. There would be much stronger arguments in favour of choice if a suitably regulated market could supply educational pluralism without creating a class-based hierarchy of schools.46 However, although in theory this is possible, in practice it is much harder to realise the mantra of ‘different but equal’. It could even be argued that the market mechanism itself will actually encourage a hierarchy of status among schools. Is it possible to retain the potential advantages of the market mechanism (such as the competitive pressure to improve school performance) without the disadvantages of unfair inequalities in market power (especially those associated with ‘middle class capture’)? Some have argued that a way to do this could be through an ‘egalitarian voucher scheme’, which would offer equal resources devoted to each child, so that private schools are obliged to compete for pupils. In contrast to other voucher schemes, an egalitarian version would preclude any top-up fees being imposed, and would insist on oversubscribed schools selecting randomly from those who apply.47 As such, an egalitarian scheme would be significantly more equitable than classical private provision, since in theory it would prevent the most popular or prestigious schools from filtering the more able students.

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What’s fair?

Conclusion The problems with choice-based systems, then, do not necessarily stem from problems with the concept of choice per se, but rather with the way in which it is implemented in practice. In particular, there are concerns that such systems may exacerbate inequality if starting from a point where the underlying conditions in society are already highly unequal. Beyond these observations, it is also worth questioning the current fixation with one particular type of choice – the choice of secondary school – when so many other important aspects of education are unchosen. If choice is something to be valued, shouldn’t the role of choice be more genuine and far-reaching? More radical reform would focus on extending personal choice to give individuals far more freedom over the timing of their education, as well as the setting in which they learn. This kind of transformation would be extremely demanding: it would require much more flexible relations between work and education, a move towards learning organisations attached to the workplace and in other spheres of life, and significantly increased funding for continuing education and adult education. In short, it would mean taking lifelong education seriously as a citizenship right, just like social security or pensions.

Conclusion: some fairness principles to guide reform In conclusion, fairness does not reside in any single one of the models or principles of education examined here. The challenge we face is to find ways of retaining what is most compelling about each model, whilst avoiding their accompanying disadvantages and distortions. Thus, from the meritocratic model, we need to uphold the concern to create proper incentives to motivate and inspire learners, as well as the basic fairness of rewarding effort and achievement, without allowing the system to be distorted in favour of the most privileged. From a choice-based system, we need to find ways of giving better expression to the value of individual choice in education throughout people’s lives,

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education without becoming fixated by just one type of choice – the choice of a place in secondary school. And, drawing on the comprehensive model, we must take steps to ensure that educational institutions are genuinely inclusive, allowing for a wider social and educational mix to honour the principle of equal status and to broaden young people’s horizons, without imposing changes in a uniform or ‘top-down’ way. Competing interpretations and changing norms of fairness are evident in different waves of reform in the development of British education since the late nineteenth century, as set out in the box below.

Box: A brief history of class in education: changing views of fairness over time The English education system has long been structured 49

along class and gender lines. With the rise of mass schooling for the working classes in the late nineteenth century, girls and boys from different social classes were effectively assigned or sorted into their future social, occupational and domestic roles through the institutions of 50

formal education.

Schooling for ‘the masses’ consisted of

basic instruction in day schools, church schools, Sunday schools and elementary schools for future labourers and their wives. At the top of the social hierarchy, the eminent public schools prepared the sons of an elite social class for future leadership. In between ‘the elite’ and ‘the masses’ were a multitude of lesser schools, catering for the children of the emerging middle classes. Intended to confirm rather than transcend existing social divisions, the rise of mass schooling embedded a differentiating function into the education system, based on a norm of ascription (the belief

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What’s fair? that people’s natural differences made them suitable for 51

different positions).

As a result, higher education and even

secondary education (in the form of an elite, liberal education) remained an upper-middle-class and predominantly 52

male domain until well into the twentieth century.

Education reform post-1944: from social predestination to individual merit By contrast, education policies ushered in after the Second World War set out deliberately to break down social barriers. This ‘second wave’ of education reform, as Philip Brown describes it, involved an ideological shift ‘from the provision of education based upon what Dewey called the “feudal dogma of social predestination” to one organised on the 53

basis of individual merit and achievement’.

The first step

was to increase participation in secondary education from low pre-war levels to achieve a ‘secondary education for all’ – a core tenet of the 1944 Education Act. Under the terms of the Act, local education authorities were required to provide state-funded secondary education for all pupils, up to age 54

15.

The Act made explicit reference to the differential abili-

ties of pupils: schools were required to provide education that incorporated “instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes”. In practice, local authorities focused rather more on providing sufficient schools than on meeting the differentiated needs of individual pupils. While the Act itself did not define the types of secondary school to be provided, the Ministry of Education issued firm guidance stipulating a tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools – though the system that actually emerged

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education was largely bipartite, since few technical schools were established at the time, and had widely disappeared by the 1960s.

55

The dominant system in the post-war era was

therefore bipartite and selective, with grammar schools for those who passed the 11-plus exams (proportions varied, but averaged about 30 per cent), and secondary moderns for the rest. Underpinning selection to different types of school lay a series of assumptions about differential ability and the appropriate form of education for different ‘types’ of learners – a notion of intelligence based on the premise that there was a limited pool of highly able individuals in society who needed to be selected and promoted through the education system. Thus, despite the aspiration to break down social class barriers to education, the 1944 Education Act was far from fully inclusive or comprehensive. In fact, the 1944 Act brought in a system of classifying pupils which led to a significant minority being deemed ‘uneducable’. About half of children designated with special education needs were excluded from mainstream schooling for the next thirty years, until the Warnock Report and the 1981 Education Act introduced multi-agency assessment of children’s learning needs. Although formal selection at age 11 is now a minority experience, the underpinning assumptions of a selective system have had a long legacy: to this day, there is still a pronounced tendency for students to follow socially determined tracks that conform to and confirm an existing ‘type’ of learner. It was precisely these assumptions that were challenged by critics of selection, who argued for a less rigidly differentiating system of education.

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What’s fair? Comprehensives: embodying the principle of equality If the tripartite system enacted after 1944 embodied a principle of differentiation, the comprehensive system that replaced it in many parts of the country embodied a principle of equality or equal concern. In the post-war period, there was increasing dissatisfaction with formal academic selection at age 11. Crucially, objections to the 11-plus exam came from parents of all backgrounds – including middleclass parents, whose objections were ultimately to prove most politically influential. Beginning in the early 1950s, comprehensive schooling began to replace the selective system, with a more rapid expansion led by Labour Education Minister Anthony Crosland in the mid-1960s, often through the amalgamation of secondary modern schools and grammar schools. In contrast to selective schooling, the comprehensive system was premised on an explicit goal to promote educational inclusion and promote social integration between pupils from more and less disadvantaged backgrounds.

The rise of a new ‘parentocracy’: school choice and school standards By the 1970s, however, criticism of the comprehensive system was growing, amidst claims that pupil performance or school ‘standards’ were on the wane. Although supporting evidence for these assertions was often lacking, a series of influential papers set out the need to defend ‘merit’ and ‘excellence’ against a ‘creeping mediocrity’ that had allegedly been allowed to infiltrate schools in the name of 56

social justice.

Under Conservative education ministers in

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education the 1980s and early 1990s, the new dominant themes were 57

school ‘standards’ and school ‘choice’.

This led to a series

of market or quasi-market reforms designed to improve performance by generating competition between institutions and to allow for a greater expression of parental choice. This agenda gave rise to a curious mixture of centralised control and devolved power to schools, more or less explicitly designed to erode the power of local authorities. These market reforms combined a liberal impulse to broaden competition, extend consumer choice and break up state monopoly of provision (through measures such as the introduction of ‘local management of schools’, which by-passed local authorities by devolving power for resource management to the school level), with a more authoritarian attempt to extend government control over the organisation and content of schooling (most notably through the introduction of a centrally prescribed national curriculum, and the introduction of a national programme of assessment at key stages). As Philip Brown describes it, what was distinctive about this wave of education reform was a shift from ‘the ideology of meritocracy’ to the ‘ideology of parentocracy’: in practice, this meant a move towards a system whereby the wishes (and wealth) of parents was a more important factor shaping children’s learning experiences and outcomes than the abilities and efforts of pupils. Practising a form of ‘selective minimalism’, central government assumed greater control over the content of education, but without having to take responsibility for the consequences of market competition. Instead, this responsibility was devolved to parents, who were then expected to exert pressure on schools to improve their performance, through the exercise of consumer choice in the school marketplace.

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What’s fair? Meeting the challenges set out above requires a more demanding assessment of fairness than is often applied in education policymaking. Here we abstract five key principles from the preceding analysis, against which we can test existing policies and design future reforms. First, fairness demands that policy proposals pass a simple, basic test of closing gaps in attainment and participation between those from more and less advantaged backgrounds. The common lesson from both meritocratic-selective and choice-based school systems is that far more

needs to be done to break the link between family background and educational attainment. According to its own logic, an elite meritocratic system is not fair because it does not do enough to break the link between family background and educational opportunity. While the intention is to widen access, too often the effect is to grant or withhold access to powerful and prestigious institutions on the basis of birth, family connections, parental income or social influence. From an egalitarian perspective, the very least that could be required of a fair education system is that it does no harm, in the sense that it does not allow gaps to widen – a test which the education system at present does not manage to pass. To achieve the more ambitious goal of closing gaps demands that resources are used to promote the life chances of all children, whilst boosting the attainment of children from

the most disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that the gaps in attainment and participation start to narrow. This will involve a significant element of need-based allocation of education funding. Second, at an institutional and classroom level, fairness demands enough diversity of provision to ensure diverse needs are met, but,

crucially, without systematically separating, labelling or stigmatising pupils. This is essential to honour the principles of equal citizenship and

equal status on which our education system must be based. There may be a strong case for separate institutions in the case of the most severe learning difficulties, where specialist treatment may be thought to be preferable. But where specialist provision is made, the onus should be on providers to minimise the detrimental effects of being separated

33


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education from other pupils. At the classroom level, while groups may need to be sufficiently differentiated to cater for the full range of needs, it is important that whatever grouping strategies are used do not undermine equal status and respect. And while differentiation is an essential part of classroom practice, a fair system must avoid ‘sorting’ children into separate institutional ranks at early ages, which can then act to close down options and possibilities for their future education. Third, educational structures and processes must be able to show that they are able to create proper incentives to motivate and inspire

learners, as well as rewarding effort and achievement – without allowing the system to be distorted in favour of the most privileged. As

we have seen, the meritocratic principle is a powerful one in education: the idea that places and opportunities should be decided on the basis of ability and talent, not wealth and status, has underpinned successive waves of educational reform in the post-war period. But despite its widespread appeal, the problem with educational practices designed on supposedly meritocratic lines is that too often in practice they actually mask the extent to which family background factors still predominate. We need then to show that educational structures and processes create proper incentives for all learners, and expose the disincentives within the system that too often hold back children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Fourth, fairness also demands a more extensive form of choice – to

give every person more choice and control over when and how they learn throughout their lives, not just limited to compulsory schooling. The current system is fixated on one particular choice – the transition to secondary school – at the expense of others. A variety of reforms and new institutional structures would be needed to give individuals more choice and control over when and how they learn, including more flexibility around tertiary education and a dramatic expansion of the opportunities for continuing education. Fifth, a fairer education system would do much more to promote

greater engagement and interaction between people from different 34


What’s fair?

social backgrounds. Holding government to account on this score is crucial: we know that children’s peer groups and families’ wider social networks are an important influence, shaping children’s performance and aspiration. Diversity of provision and choice must therefore not come at the expense of social inclusion and integration. *

*

*

In this chapter, we have asked what a fair education system might look like and on what principles and values it would be based. We have then used this analysis to formulate some principles of a fair education system, against which we can test existing policies and design future reforms. Before turning to these tasks in later chapters, however, we first briefly look at public attitudes towards fairness in education – to see what we can learn here for approaches to reform.

35


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education

36


3 | Who cares? What the public thinks is fair

H

ow do the principles and competing interpretations of fairness set out so far relate to public views about fairness in education? In this chapter, we consider what the public thinks is fair, drawing on original public attitudes research based on deliberative focus groups and survey data. Importantly, rather than just a superficial snapshot of opinion, we draw on the research to explore the underlying drivers of people’s beliefs and the distributive norms they use in different circumstances when making judgements about fairness. As we shall see, while our analysis of public attitudes indicates a general and widespread willingness to compensate for disadvantage, people tend to be rather more cautious about changes that would mean taking advantages away from those who have them. Thus, there is much greater consensus about the fairness of allocating additional resources to disadvantaged pupils than there is around proposals for changing admissions processes in the school system. Of course, whilst a study of public attitudes is relevant and highly salient to questions of fairness and how we think about them, in no way do we wish to suggest that what the public currently thinks is fair


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education should somehow set the limits of what is possible or desirable in education policy. It is also important to consider the wider political discourses that influence and shape people’s views, by encouraging them to draw on particular norms or by making certain values appear more appropriate in particular circumstances. Indeed, as we argue later, a key part of the challenge in building a political consensus for more fundamental educational reform lies in changing the political discourses that influence and shape what the public thinks is fair.

Awareness of the class gaps in education The links between children’s family circumstances and parental resources, on the one hand, and their chances in education, on the other hand, are widely recognised. Survey evidence shows that not only are people aware of the difference that parents’ income makes to children’s life chances, but that nearly seven in ten think that parents’ income 59 plays too big a part in shaping children’s chances. In deliberative research conducted by the Fabian Society in 2008 and 2009, we wanted to explore the extent to which people are aware of the social class gaps in education, to what extent it is regarded as a problem and also how people respond to evidence of social inequalities in educational attainment and other outcomes. The research comprised five deliberative focus groups (with eight participants each) and three fullday deliberative workshops (with 16 participants each), carried out in four cities across the UK: London, Bristol, Sheffield and Glasgow. The participants for all these groups were aged between 25 and 65, and drawn from the full range of socio-economic positions, with a broad range of political affiliation or party identification. (For more detail, see Bamfield, L. and Horton, T. (2009) Understanding attitudes towards tackling economic inequality, York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.) Importantly, children’s family background is seen to make a difference in education in part because of the educational advantages that money can buy. In the discussion groups, participants acknowledged

38


Who cares? the difference that money makes in education, especially in terms of a “wider choice of schools”, and access to private education, which was seen as offering “better teachers”, “smaller class sizes”, and “better behaviour” in the classroom. There was a perception that it is easier for more affluent parents to encourage their children’s talent because they have the financial means to do so. As participants put it, “money gives you more choices” and “more options”, as well as providing the right “contacts” and opportunities for “social networking”. The impact of unequal resources is perceived to fall both on the opportunities that children have available and the outcomes they are likely to achieve. As one participant said, if you have two children who are equally talented but from different economic backgrounds then it will be much easier for the child from a wealthier background to be “nurtured” and therefore “progress”. But while money is associated with greater advantages in education, not all the differences in opportunity are perceived to be financial. Perhaps the strongest determinant of children’s success, both in education and in life more generally, was seen as the unequal nature of parental support, time and engagement in their children’s education. In the discussion groups, attitudes tended to vary between more judgemental comments, which blamed parents in low socio-economic groups for not making time to support their children, to more empathetic views, which recognised the greater pressures facing families on lower income that might then detract from parents’ time and ability to support their children.

Concern about barriers and disadvantages in education There was also concern about the barriers that lack of money can create in education and awareness of the educational disadvantages faced by pupils and schools in more deprived areas. Participants referred to problems such as more challenging pupil behaviour and

39


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education poor discipline, as well as greater difficulties in recruiting and retraining experienced teachers. Evidence presented to the groups on the higher rates of teacher turnover in more deprived areas accorded with their personal experience. Lack of money was seen to be a particular disadvantage when it comes to higher education. The costs of university, both tuition fees and living costs, were seen as preventing young people from lower-income families from continuing in education. There was also awareness, especially amongst participants who were themselves from more disadvantaged backgrounds, of the ‘opportunity costs’ of continuing in full-time education for lower-income students, as these young people were seen as facing greater pressure to enter employment rather than pursue further training or education.

Public support for addressing the gap in resources In general, there was a broad consensus across our discussion groups about differences in educational experiences and opportunities in Britain today. With regard to the fair distribution of school funding, there was a clear sense across all the discussion groups that school resources should be distributed in part according to need, with greater resources targeted at more deprived areas. Importantly, attitudes towards progressive spending went further than merely general expressions of support: evidence from both the discussion groups and our own survey suggest that people are willing to see extra resources allocated to disadvantaged children, even if it means fewer resources being available for ‘people like themselves’. Asked how the money should be divided between three imaginary schools, many participants initially reached instinctively for norms of equality, calling for identical treatment for all schools and pupils: Shouldn’t it all be standardised? They should all get the same money. They’re all the same as they walk through the door.

40


Who cares? (Male, Bristol)

I think it’s got to be the same for all. I mean, teachers are paid the same whatever school they’re in. (Female, Bristol) You see initially I thought that, they should all get the same money. (Female, Glasgow).

As the discussions progressed however, there was recognition and general agreement that the local area, capacities, and intake of the school should be taken into account when distributing resources. Thus, an instinctive view of fairness expressed in terms of strict equality or identical treatment developed into the idea that fairness would require additional spending for some pupils, based on educational need: I think every school should have the same straightforward budget, and then, you look at the factors, and add on modules, responding to those factors (Male, Bristol). Yes, yes (Male and female, Bristol).

This basic formula, consisting of a standard amount of money for every pupil, with extra funding for schools in more difficult circumstances on the basis of need, was consistently seen as fair across each of the discussion groups. This conclusion was also backed up by our polling, conducted in 2009: 50 per cent of poll respondents supported “offering higher pay to more experienced teachers to work in the most challenging and difficult schools” (with 28 per cent opposed), even when it meant that ‘less money is available for schools in less deprived areas’. To explore the depth of this commitment further, participants were also asked about the fair allocation of resources within a school and which pupils should receive additional learning support. Asked who ‘deserved’ the extra support, participants generally thought that any

41


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education additional resources should be spent helping those who need it the most rather than awarding it to the most talented. As participants expressed it, additional spending on learning support should “go towards those of lower ability to bring them up to the level” and to “help those who are less fortunate”. Some participants described this as a moral decision, “a gut reaction, morally”. A few participants expressed concern that teachers’ time and attention can be concentrated on disruptive pupils at the expense of others in the class. But for the most part participants recognised the benefits for all pupils, including their own children, if dedicated support was given to pupils with behavioural problems. Many participants thought that ‘bright’ children “should be alright on their own”, so did not require special resources, though there was also a sense from some participants that “it would be nice to nurture ones who could be high flyers”. Among participants from lower socioeconomic groups in particular, there was also recognition of the barriers that might prevent children from more disadvantaged backgrounds from being ‘high flyers’. Our poll data shows that this support for needs-based spending, with greater resources targeted at more deprived areas, extends to public spending on the early years. Some 47 per cent supported the idea of providing ‘intensive support and advice to the most disadvantaged new parents, with home visits by specially trained nurses’ (with 25 per cent opposed), even when it meant ‘fewer health visitors are available for other families’. (This support increased to 60 per cent, with 15 per cent opposed, when evidence from the US on the effectiveness of such interventions was mentioned prior to the question.) People are convinced not only by the ‘business’ case for early intervention – the argument that ‘prevention is better than cure’ – but also by the moral argument for early intervention. It seems, then, that people do care about disadvantage and unequal chances in education, not just in a general or abstract way, but to the extent of being willing to see more public money and resources going to

42


Who cares? support children and infants from less advantaged backgrounds, even when it means fewer resources for ‘people like them’.

More ambivalent attitudes about fair processes and structures While people are quite happy with allocating educational budgets with reference to pupil needs, public attitudes are more ambivalent when it comes to allocating places at schools and universities. In the first instance, when asked about fair access to the most popular schools, there is a clear and widespread view that current arrangements are skewed unfairly in favour of more affluent or capable families. In the discussion groups, many aspects of existing admissions systems were seen as unfairly benefiting parents “who shout the loudest” or have greatest resources. Allocating school places according to geographical location was seen as benefiting those who can afford to live in the most sought after areas, while participants spontaneously brought up examples of parents who “play” or “cheat” the admissions system, for example by moving house or lying about their address on applications. At the same time, however, participants were generally unwilling to condemn parents, even when they go to such lengths to secure a place at their preferred school. Some participants excused behaviour such as lying about information on application forms on the grounds that “it’s up to you, if you want to do that much for your child” (Female, Glasgow). Across the groups, there was a strong theme that parents who seek out educational advantages for their children are “just doing the best for their kids”. As one participant expressed it: “basically you do whatever’s best for your kids, don’t you, I suppose” (Male, Bristol). Thus, while aspects of the system are seen as unfair in creating different opportunities and outcomes, the individuals concerned are not felt to be to blame for taking advantage of those opportunities where they exist.

43


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education In the main, although people are dissatisfied with the existing system, they are yet to be convinced by the case for alternative ways of allocating places, which are seen as creating different problems and disadvantages. Survey data provides some evidence of public support for the principle of ‘fair access’ – and a preference for ‘fair access’ over ‘maximum choice’ or ‘institutional diversity’. But beyond this, specific proposals on changing the admissions system are strongly contested – as demonstrated by the hostile reaction of many local parents to the introduction of lottery allocation procedures in areas such as Brighton and Hove. This ambivalence was evidence in the discussion groups, where although there was general support for tightening the school admissions code, even here there was controversy around how far local authorities should actively police the rules around fair admissions.

Views on the fairness of selective schooling Participants in the discussion groups were divided in their views of selective schooling. Some participants were firmly opposed to academic selection at age eleven, pointing to the negative consequences for children on the receiving end, and the “feelings of worthlessness” such systems can engender. Other participants defended selection, arguing that “some sort of system such as the 11-plus” may be suitable for ”sorting out gifted people”. Survey data confirms this mixed picture: surveys reveal that roughly half of the public support a mixed comprehensive and grammar school system, with a slightly higher preference expressed by people in social classes ABC1 (54 per cent) than C2DE (43 per cent). As we might expect, greater divergence exists amongst people of different political persuasions: almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of Conservatives compared to just one third of Labour supporters (30 per cent to 39 per cent) are in favour of admissions via formal selection. What lies behind these views? One theoary is that the level of support for grammar schools seems to accord with people’s appraisal of the

44


Who cares? benefits of such a system for their own families: roughly the same proportion of respondents support a grammar school system (49 per cent) as think that a mixed comprehensive and grammar school system is best for school children in families like their own (48 per cent). If correct, then given that a much smaller proportion (usually one fifth) of children are actually admitted to grammar schools in practice, this suggests that those in favour of a grammar system tend to overestimate their own child’s chances of being selected – and raises the question as to whether people would be less supportive if they knew what the actual chances were. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that people’s views are motivated solely or even predominantly by self-interest. Public support may also reflect a commonly held view that grammar schools work to the benefit of children from poorer backgrounds. In the discussion groups, some participants defended academic selection on these grounds, saying that processes such as the eleven plus were a potentially useful way of locating and helping students from poorer backgrounds who have the potential to be ‘high flyers’. In this regard, some participants expressed a classic meritocratic position, viewing academic selection as preferable to systems based on private education, since it is seen as fairer to allocate places according to merit than according to wealth. In the case of university places, however, many people regard a results-based admissions process, based on interviews and exam performance, as the fairest way of determining places. Even though there is wide recognition that individuals from more affluent backgrounds have more advantages in education than others, people do not generally think that family background should be taken into account in university admissions processes. Not all subscribe to this view: some people think that it is fair to take account of early educational experiences. But in the main, the dominant view is that students who achieve the best results deserve a place at the top institutions, because they have demonstrated their suitability for those places.

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education

Summary: support for compensation but ambivalence about reform of admissions In summary, we have seen that people’s views about fairness in education are characterised by a degree of ambivalence: although people are often uneasy about aspects of the system, they may still be inclined to defend it or be resistant to change. Thus, while our analysis of public attitudes has indicated a general and widespread willingness to compensate for disadvantage, we have also seen that people are generally cautious about changes which would mean taking advantages away from those who have them. Importantly, it would be wrong to dismiss resistance to reform as simply self-interested. We need to understand why so many individuals and groups who are disadvantaged by the current system are still willing to uphold it and why changes in the interest of pursuing greater equality are often seen as more unfair than the status quo.

Drivers of public attitudes: belief in the availability of opportunity In some cases, people display a degree of fatalism or inevitability, expressing a belief that the system is impervious to change. In other cases, they are aware of problems with the current system but are unpersuaded by any of the possible alternatives. Above all, however, resistance to reform often stems from a belief that even if opportunities are not strictly equal, there is enough opportunity available in the current system to make it justifiable. As we have argued elsewhere, an important driver of public attitudes towards fairness in the allocation of welfare and public services is a belief in the ready availability of opportunity – not a belief that opportunities are strictly equal, but that there is enough opportunity for individuals to get on in life if 60 they really want to. Partly this is because people have a strong tendency to avoid comparing themselves with those in more advantaged positions. As Lane’s classic 1959 study of attitudes to equality

46


Who cares? observes, ‘A person who can improve his position one rung does not 61 resent the man who starts on a different ladder half way up’. As we argue further in the final chapter below, these findings have implications for the political arguments that are likely to be persuasive in making the case for educational reform. While egalitarians may be convinced of the case for action, simply having a ‘say it louder’ version of traditional egalitarian arguments won’t achieve this.

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education

48


4 | Learning the lessons for politics and policy

T

he new Coalition Government has said it will place fairness and social justice at the heart of its agenda for government. The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has unveiled a series of reforms with the express intention of helping improve outcomes for disadvantaged groups. But to what extent do the headline policy proposals – the new Pupil Premium, the expansion of the Academies programme and the introduction of new ‘free schools’, alongside the ‘refocusing’ of Sure Start children’s centres – pass the most basic of fairness tests, to narrow the gaps in pupil attainment and participation? In this chapter, we apply the fairness tests set out earlier to assess the new Government’s headline education policies. We also look more widely at some important reforms for narrowing the gap in both experiences and attainment at different stages of the education system, drawing on the analysis of previous chapters. The priority for progressive campaigners in coming months will be to defend and protect public funding for key areas of education policy in the upcoming spending review. To name just one example, recent cuts

49


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education to the Building Schools for the Future programme are a particular concern, since ensuring high-quality facilities for all is a central element in reducing inequalities in educational experiences and in improving the social image of all schools. But while we need to be realistic about what can be achieved in the short- to medium-term, it is also crucial to keep a sense of what is needed beyond the immediate constraints of the current fiscal climate. Looking ahead, we need to think more ambitiously and imaginatively about what can be achieved in tackling educational inequality. An agenda for change is needed for the next thirty years, not just for the five-year period of this Parliament. An uneasy relationship between ‘standards’, inclusion, diversity and choice: Labour’s education policy 1997 to 2010 Whereas Tony Blair famously declared back in 1996 that Labour’s top three priorities in office would be “Education, Education, Education”, in the event, the focus of Labour’s education policy was predominantly on “Standards, Standards, Standards”. In Labour’s first term, the standards agenda was pursued most assiduously in relation to primary schools, with new initiatives to improve the quality of teaching and learning in literacy and numeracy and to reduce class sizes for children 62

up to age seven.

Drawing on the recommendations of 63

Michael Barber’s Literacy Task Force,

the Labour govern-

ment introduced the daily literacy hour in 1998, part of a 64

new National Literacy Strategy.

After a significant increase

in central government control of the curriculum under the previous Conservative government, the new national strategies for literacy and numeracy signalled that greater control was now to be exerted not just over what was taught in the

50


Learning the lessons for politics and policy 65

classroom, but also how it was to be taught.

In addition to the national strategies, the Government sought to improve levels of pupil attainment and school performance by extending the national system of assessment, with increased testing of pupils at key stages one and two. In accordance with previous policy, public comparisons of school performance, through devices such as league tables, were intended to improve ‘standards’ by providing schools with an incentive to better their positions. Labour’s second term in office from 2001 saw the re-emergence of the ‘choice and diversity’ agenda previously initiated under the Conservatives in the early 1990s, which encouraged schools ‘to differentiate themselves according to their individual ethos, special character and areas of 66

specialist expertise’.

The emphasis on diversity led to a

whole raft of new school types – various Specialist schools, Foundation schools and Beacon schools, along with Academies and Trust schools – all intended to increase the institutional choice available to parents and pupils. School diversification was encouraged and promoted by much greater investment in school renovation and capital building projects through the Building Schools for the Future programme, as well as overall increases in levels of school funding. To promote the efficient and effective use of resources, central government deployed a raft of performance measures, targets and indicators, as well as utilising the system of inspection and regulation, and, as a last resort, intervention in ‘failing’ services. Labour’s schools policy therefore relied on two main mechanisms to promote schools’ performance and to incentivise improvements in educational attainment: first, the continued use of market (or quasi-market) mechanisms

51


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education designed to promote parental choice and school competition and so raise ‘standards’; and, second, the more extensive use of ‘top-down performance management’ as a tool for monitoring and directing education practice. Both types of approach were subject to significant levels of criticism. First, critics on the left reiterated longstanding concerns about the stratifying and segregating effects of choice- and competition-based policies. In their view, an inherent contradiction exists between ‘choice’ and ‘equality of opportunity’, since greater market forces in education result in schools choosing pupils rather than pupils choosing schools. Second, critics warned that the increased use of centrally-imposed performance measures and targets creates perverse incentives and distorting and unintended effects on school practice In the event, both types of criticism were born out by empirical evidence. For example, case studies and quantitative research demonstrates that school choice policies, combined with league table competition, have placed special needs pupils, pupils from ethnic minorities and those from lower-income backgrounds at a disadvantage 67

as compared to their peers.

These concerns came to a head following the publication of the 2005 Schools White Paper: ‘Higher Standards, Better Schools for all’ and during the passage of the 2006 Education and Inspections Act, which set out plans for the introduction of new Trust Schools, to be awarded greater independence from local authorities and powers to exercise greater autonomy over the curriculum. These debates are instructive for our purposes, because they foreshadow debates that are likely to accompany the passage of new

52


Learning the lessons for politics and policy legislation under the Coalition Government to usher in a new generation of ‘free schools’. The ‘standards’ agenda, based on improving school and pupil performance, which had been such a strong feature of Conservative education policy between 1979 and 1997, continued to dominate Labour’s education policy from 1997 to 2010. And yet, under Labour there were also more concerted attempts to marry the drive to improve ‘standards’ with new efforts to promote social and educational inclusion. From the outset, while the principal focus was on raising general levels of attainment, Labour’s education policy also included measures aimed at narrowing the education gaps, by tackling the low levels of attainment concentrated in the most deprived areas and schools, including large increases in disadvantage-related funding. As part of its ‘social exclusion’ agenda, Labour’s first term saw a flurry of activity, with a range of programmes – such as Education Action Zones and the Excellence in Cities programme – targeting specific areas with additional funding. These programmes aimed to encourage the inclusion of pupils in schemes such as breakfast and homework clubs, in order to motivate pupils and improve attitudes to school activities and learning. Evaluations reported an observed decrease in permanent exclusions in the respective schools, but little or no effect on the levels of attendance overall. Improved standards in test scores were observed at Key Stage 1 but little improvement was seen at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3. In general, the programmes went some way to encouraging inclusion but made only small improvements to standards as a whole.

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education While these area-based initiatives contributed to a slight narrowing of the attainment gap by 2001, research showed that there was still a significant disparity in the performance of pupils from ‘high’ and ‘low’ income schools (defined according to the percentage of pupils who qualified for free school meals). In 2001, pupils from higher socio-economic backgrounds were still more than twice as likely to achieve five or more A-C grades as pupils from routine occupation backgrounds. As a group, pupils eligible for free school meals were still performing notably worse than other pupils at Key Stage 3, and were far more likely to leave school without any GCSE passes. So despite some good progress, Labour needed to be far more ambitious. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Labour’s inclusion agenda was its vision for early years education and childcare, based on a network of children’s centres, offering a safe, enriching and nurturing environment for children to play in and interact socially, combined with a wide range of services and support for families. In practice, although the vision of a universal early years service was widely supported by the children’s sector and by experts in early 68

years development,

the promise has yet to be fully

realised. There was also increased support for the most disadvantaged groups of children and young people, for example through the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant, and intensive courses for children of asylum-seekers and refugees, while the Children’s Fund was created to help prevent children from falling into drug abuse, truancy, exclusion, unemployment and crime, by paying for services such as mentoring programmes, parenting education and support, counselling and advice.

54


Learning the lessons for politics and policy However, despite the additional resources directed at schools and children’s services in deprived areas, it also became apparent that additional funding was not reaching disadvantaged schools and pupils in full – in part because local authorities continued to allocate resources on a historical basis rather than on the basis of need.

A broader and more inclusive education: making every child matter A more significant departure from the ‘standards’ agenda came half way through Labour’s second term, with the emphasis on general well-being and a broader and more inclusive education in the 2003 Green Paper: ‘Every Child Matters’. This stressed the importance for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to be healthy and safe, achieve and make a positive contribution. A priority was made to identify children and young people at risk of social exclusion or harm at an early stage and to make sure they receive the help and support they need to achieve their potential. The ‘Youth Matters’ 2005 Green paper developed this approach and extended the Every Child Matters agenda up the age range. ‘Youth Matters’ set a new target for all young people to ‘have access to a variety of activities beyond the school day’ by 2010. The aims were to provide access to sporting and other constructive activities in clubs, youth groups and classes, and to provide children with opportunities to make a positive contribution to their community through volunteer work. Further plans were outlined to establish local youth support teams, focused on preventative work and early intervention with targeted individuals, and to introduce a system of ‘lead profes-

55


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education sionals’ to ensure that every young person who needs support has someone to ‘take care’ of their interests. Despite these efforts, there was little sign that the links between family background and educational attainment were closing by the end of Labour’s second term in office. Research showed that by 2005 there was an even stronger correlation between income and educational attainment, with children from higher-income families experiencing greater increases in attainment relative to children from lower-income families.

Narrowing the gaps: a more explicit focus on breaking the links between family background and pupil outcomes Labour’s third term brought more explicit recognition of the need to narrow education gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils, first by Education Secretary Alan Johnson, and then by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls. Importantly, the introduction of new ‘gap’ targets in education signalled Labour’s recognition that the existing ‘floor’ targets had had unintended effects in practice. Alongside the new targets for narrowing the gaps in pupil attainment between children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) and their peers, the Labour Government set out a range of measures designed to ‘narrow the gap’ in educational outcomes through targeting resources more effectively towards disadvantaged students, including: better tracking of pupils’ progress in the early years foundation stage; intensive learning support for children who start to fall behind; and efforts to widen participation, especially through raising the participation age to 18 by 2015. These efforts also included extra support through

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy 69

information, advice and promoting positive role models.

Alongside policies to narrow the gaps in formal qualifications, there was also a welcome and important focus on narrowing the gap in educational experiences and opportunities, through extended school services, broadening the curriculum, and improving non-formal learning in a range 70

of settings.

Finally, Labour also set out new plans to increase participation in education beyond the age of 16, building on the Educational Maintenance Allowance. By setting out plans for the Raising of Participation Age to 18, Labour Ministers were finally realising the original intention of Rab Butler, architect of the 1944 Education Act, to create an entitlement to all young people to continue in education and training until age 18.

1. A fair start? Transforming learning opportunities in the early years Where now for the early years agenda? Under the previous government, investment in the early years was a major plank of Labour policy, heralded as the new �frontier of the welfare state� by successive minis71 ters. At a time when some commentators on the right of the political spectrum are clamouring to dismantle the welfare state, what is the prognosis for early years education and childcare – is it a case of last in, first out? Importantly, the new Coalition Government seems convinced of the case for providing the right support for children and families during the critical first few years of life. Just as Labour ministers were persuaded by the wealth of research evidence about the importance of public investment in early years provision, new ministers also now subscribe

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education to the importance of early intervention as the fairest and most effective way of helping improve the outcomes of children, especially those from 72 more disadvantaged backgrounds. However, some in the Coalition Government have hitherto been less firmly attached to a model of formal, centre-based early years learning and childcare than the previous government were. Under the terms of the Coalition Agreement, the new Government is committed to taking Sure Start ‘back to its original purpose of early intervention and increase its focus on the neediest families’ and has pledged to shift funding from 73 Sure Start peripatetic outreach services to pay for extra Health Visitors.

Reaching the most disadvantaged groups Labour’s efforts whilst in government had started to transform provision for early years education and childcare. At the outset, the development of new Sure Start Children’s Centres was concentrated in areas of greatest deprivation, with the first centres originally opening in the most deprived 88 wards in the country. Since then, the service has expanded to achieve the goal of having a centre in every community in the country: by the time the Labour Government left office in May 2010, over 3,500 Children’s Centres had been opened nationally. So important steps had been taken to achieve Labour’s vision of a universal early years service – one which is widely supported by the children’s sector 74 and by experts in early years development. What is precisely meant by the new Coalition Government’s pledge to ‘refocus’ Sure Start back to its original purpose is unclear. From the outset, Sure Start centres have been committed to welcoming all families, while providing additional help for those with the highest needs 75 and practitioners show a high commitment to this aim. In addition, evidence from the national evaluation indicates that all groups are represented equally in the first phase of centres, located in the most disadvantaged areas, and that all groups are benefiting equally from the

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy 76

services available. Therefore, it is not the case that Sure Start centres 77 have been dominated by middle class families, as has been claimed. But there is certainly more to do to improve outreach to the most disadvantaged families. As recent reviews of provision undertaken by Ofsted, the Audit Commission and the Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families have highlighted, children’s centres continue to face challenges in engaging the most vulnerable groups, such as teenage 78 parents and parents with a substance abuse problem. Here, there is a danger that taking funding away from outreach services to pay for new health visitors, as the Government had formally pledged, will mean that health visitors carry all the burdens of coordinating outreach activities with other sectors. This would be a mistake, since evaluations to date have highlighted the need to ensure that children’s centres are properly linked with all sectors: housing, social services and adult specialist services in health and employment, as well as primary schools and parent support advisors. Cutting the outreach function from children’s centres would carry the risk that health visitors would quickly become overburdened – and means that centres could become even less able to reach the neediest families than at present. There is a broader concern that the pledge to ‘refocus’ Sure Start either means scaling back the services on offer (for example, by reducing the Core Offer) or a restriction in the number of centres that are open (see for example the recent Children, Schools and Families Select Committee’s report on Sure Start Children’s Centres). On the one hand, a more targeted service could help ensure that more resources are focused on the most disadvantaged families; on the other, it is important to recognise that although the neediest families tend to be spatially concentrated – with half of ’multiple exclusion’ families living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas – this still leaves a significant proportion of disadvantaged families located in areas of lower deprivation. What is more, there are compelling reasons to uphold a universal service – not only to provide important assistance

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education to middle-income families, but also because a non-stigmatising service is likely to be more effective at bringing in the neediest families; and because the broader social mix in children’s centres means that children from more disadvantaged families are able to benefit from social 79 interaction with a wider cross section of their peers. In conclusion, a network of children’s centres should be retained at the heart of the early years strategy, based on a vision of achieving a truly universal service with benefits for children and adults alike. In terms of the priorities for early years policy over the short, medium- and longer-term, we make the following points: •

Cutting funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres, or shifting financial support to more informal provision, would risk harming outcomes for children from lower socio-economic groups, who research demonstrates have most to gain from the cognitive effects of high quality early years education. In the current financial climate, the most immediate priority will therefore be simply to protect existing funding for early years education at the next spending review, and in particular to protect funding for outreach services in their own right.

In the future, the priority will be to embed good practice and ensure that the full value of investment is realised. Parts of the sector are still relatively new and inexperienced, and need further support to develop capacity to plan, measure and improve their impact for families with high needs. Ultimately, achieving high quality provision for all children and a service that promotes employment will require investment in both a highly-trained, professional workforce and a service that is free or heavily subsidised at the point of use, available and accessible to all. This

requires a change to simplify the funding arrangements, which are overly complex and confusing. One option would be to make

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

funding go to children’s centres rather than qualifying parents, to achieve more stability in places (and so reduce the ‘churn’ that comes from demand-side funding). •

Furthermore, having recognised the importance and persuasiveness of ‘invest to save’ arguments, the government now needs to learn a second key lesson about what is essential for sustaining progress over time. Investing in the 0-3 age group is certainly vital, and helps make up for decades of neglect and under-investment in early years provision. But without following up this focus during primary schooling, the evidence shows that those important initial gains in cognitive development will be lost. A high quality service

needs to be fully integrated within wider children’s services, with early years educators working closely with their counterparts in family services, health and social services and local primary schools. In addition, centres must be properly integrated with adult services, so that parents and other family members, including grandparents, can access a full range of support, information and advice services via children’s centres.

Over the longer term, giving every child the best start in life means investing in improving the pay, training and experience of the early years workforce. Achieving the goal of a universal early years service will require a higher proportion of government funding for the under-fives to subsidise costs. Under Labour, expenditure on early years and childcare more than doubled to approximately 0.7 per cent of GDP, but this is still far below the

one per cent of GDP that the OECD sets as a benchmark for the minimum level of public funding needed on early childhood education and care. Although the current fiscal climate may well

preclude any immediate expansion of the early years service, there is no reason to abandon the goal of a universal early years service.

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education

In the coming years, it will be crucial to reach the level of one per cent of GDP as soon as economically viable. 2. Preventing the gaps widening in compulsory education As set out above, in its last term in office the Labour Government set out a range of measures designed to ‘narrow the gap’ in educational outcomes not only through targeting resources more effectively towards disadvantaged students (for example, with intensive learning support for children who start to fall behind) but also through information, 80 advice and promoting positive role models. Alongside policies to narrow gaps in formal qualifications, there was also a welcome and important focus on narrowing the gap in educational experiences and opportunities, through extended school services, broadening the curriculum, improving non-formal learning in a range of settings, and plans for raising the Participation Age to age 18 in the coming years. These policies represent important steps towards achieving fairer outcomes for all, by helping to compensate for early disadvantage and by redistributing resources towards children from deprived areas and disadvantaged backgrounds. Over coming months, it will be important that the Coalition Government does not lose momentum in these areas, especially given pressures to cut spending. But it is also important to recognise the slow progress that is being made in closing gaps in attainment and participation, and the need to go further. In the future, a more ambitious and far-reaching strategy is needed to address long-standing inequalities, and to ensure that the system of schooling passes the most basic of fairness tests – to prevent gaps widening during compulsory education. How well, then, do the new Coalition Government’s headline education policies measure up? Here we look at some of their proposals that pass the ‘fairness test’ and others that clearly fail.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy The Pupil Premium and investment in teacher quality Prominent amongst the new proposals is the introduction of a Pupil Premium. Building on large increases in disadvantage-related school funding under the previous Labour Government, this will provide additional funding specially targeted at disadvantaged pupils, paid direct to schools, with the express purpose of boosting their attainment and so helping to narrow the sizeable gaps that remain. At a time of considerable fiscal constraint, this commitment to secure additional funding for disadvantaged pupils is therefore extremely welcome. It should help to create a more responsive system, providing incentives for schools to recruit pupils from disadvantaged areas. And paying the premium directly to schools may help in correcting the ‘glitch’ in the system that tends to prevent local authorities from passing on all deprivation funding to schools – especially due to measures introduced after the school funding “crisis” in 2003/04 (like the Minimum Funding Guarantee, by which local authorities were required to adhere 81 to historical funding levels for schools). Importantly, increasing funding for disadvantaged pupils is also in tune with public beliefs about fairness in education: as we saw in the previous chapter, there is strong public support for a progressive use of resources in schools to meet the additional learning needs of children from deprived backgrounds. •

However, the question remains as to how these additional school resources can best be deployed. Under current plans, it will be for schools to decide how best to use the funding for the benefit of their deprived pupils – part of the new administration’s intention to cut central prescription and increase freedom and flexibility for local providers. But there is no guarantee that every school will know how best to use these additional resources – or that they will reach the most disadvantaged pupils. So the Government should instead undertake to provide schools with the right support and

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education guidance to ensure that additional resources are used effectively.

An immediate priority for the Coalition Government is therefore to conduct a review of the most effective ‘gap narrowing’ activities for schools, both to prevent underachievement from the outset, and to ensure that initial gains already achieved through early years learning are sustained. Without this, the risk is that some

schools will not use extra resources in an optimum way and the attainment gaps will not be closed. It is also important to ensure there are mechanisms in place to ensure that schools are accountable for spending the extra resources effectively. The Coalition Government has also pledged to “improve the quality of the teaching profession by supporting Teach First and creating Teach Now; and reform national pay and conditions rules to give schools greater freedoms to pay good teachers more and deal with poor performance”. Again, this is a welcome priority, since research demonstrates that nothing is more important for determining pupil outcomes than the quality of teaching. A key part of ensuring a fair funding system is ensuring that schools with a challenging pupil intake are able to provide incentives (including higher salaries) to recruit and retain the most talented, energetic and committed teachers. In particular, it is significant that the Teach First mission statement is ‘to close the achievement gap by helping top graduates become excellent teachers in challenged schools, committed to leading in their classrooms and overcoming the obstacles of deprivation in order to increase access, achievement and aspirations for the thousands of young people that lack the opportunities that many others take for 83 granted’. An expansion of the current programme, which recruits and trains 500-600 of the best graduates each year, as well as the creation of an equivalent programme for established professionals looking to make a career change into teaching, therefore promises important benefits for many disadvantaged young people.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy •

Support for these programmes, though very welcome, is not sufficient, however. First, it also matters how teachers are deployed both between and within schools. So in taking forward the commitments

in the Coalition Agreement, the Government therefore needs to commit to addressing the deployment of teachers more generally.

Studies of successful schools also demonstrate the importance of 85 stable staffing. Yet, as we saw in Chapter 1, staff turnover is typically higher in more challenging schools. Measures are therefore

needed not only to attract and recruit excellent new teaching staff, but also to provide the necessary support for classroom teachers to ensure they retain that commitment and enthusiasm. The hidden costs of education Other Government proposals, however, do not fare so well in evaluating how they will impact on educational inequality. Children speaking first hand about their experiences of schooling point to four main areas where lack of income creates material disadvantage and deprivation: (i) having difficulty affording essential items for school such as books or course materials (as well as desirable additional items such as revision guides); (ii) being unable to afford the school uniform; (iii) being unable to afford additional learning activities such as school trips; and (iv) the ‘embarrassment of receiving free school 86 meals’ (Ridge 2009, p. 40). Here, there is a concern that, at the same time as allocating additional funding via the pupil premium, the Coalition Government is also considering actions that will exacerbate 87 rather than reduce the ‘hidden’ costs of education. •

As with early years policy, there is a real risk that programmes of particular importance for disadvantaged children will suffer from spending cuts or retrenchment. A prime candidate here is the extended schools programme, which seeks to broaden the curriculum and wider learning opportunities of children and

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education young people, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Given the importance of extra-curricular activity for developing a wider set of skills and capacities, fostering confidence and independence, and promoting social interaction, it is therefore vital for government to protect funding in this area. Failure to do so risks widening inequalities in access to enriching learning activities. •

Action is also needed to stop schools (often unwittingly) contributing to children’s feelings of embarrassment through the administration of free school meals. The most beneficial way to

remove this burden would be to extend the entitlement to free school meals to all children, building on pilots in England and the commitment to extend free school meals in Scotland. It is therefore

disappointing that the Coalition Government has already reversed the planned extension of free school meals to families on the full entitlement of tax credits. Not only would this have removed stigma sometimes attached to receiving free school meals, and in turn promote higher take-up, but it would also have addressed the work disincentives for parents moving from out-of-work benefits 88 into work, who then lose their entitlement to free school meals. The extension of the entitlement to free school meals might not necessarily be the top priority for new spending in the current fiscal climate. But given the triple benefits of universal free school meals – for children’s health, reducing stigma and removing disincentives for parents to move into work – this remains an important goal for a better education system, as well as an important part of a strategy for tackling wider economic inequalities in society. School meals are one aspect of the ‘hidden costs’ of education, reminding us of the ways in which education policy must be sensitive to broader problems of income poverty and inequality.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy A divided system? Assessing plans for school reform Alongside the pupil premium, other central planks of the new Government’s education policy include the expansion of the Academies programme and the introduction of new ‘free schools’. Both reforms are explicitly intended to create a more diversified schools system, based around the themes of greater school autonomy, freedom from local authority control and measures to increase the supply of places to allow for more choice and diversity in provision. As summarised earlier, the re-emergence of the ‘choice and diversity’ agenda under Labour led to a whole raft of new school types – including various Specialist schools, Foundation schools and Beacon schools, along with Academies and Trust schools – all intended to increase the institutional choice available to parents and pupils. In this sense, the Conservatives have positioned themselves as being the ‘heir to Blair’ – recalling their decision to side with the former Labour prime minister in the heated and contested debates around the 2005 Schools White Paper and the passage of the 2006 Education Act. More broadly, proposals for an expansion of the Academies programme and creation of new ‘free schools’ signal a return to the ‘parentocracy’ ideal of the 89 early nineties. However, as discussed in Chapter 2, critics of the ‘choice and diversity’ agenda express concerns about the divisive effects of such policies – especially regarding the differential capabilities parents and pupils have to take advantage of such systems, and the consequences of this for their opportunities to access the most successful schools. Before turning to the policies themselves, we would note a couple of points: First, the new Government’s rhetoric around ‘setting schools free’ does not necessarily match the reality. Looking at the percentage of decisions taken at local and school level, England has the second most devolved system amongst OECD countries after Finland, while English schools actually enjoy greater autonomy than in any other OECD

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education 90

country apart from the Netherlands. It is therefore misleading to describe English schools as being encumbered by bureaucratic ‘red tape’ and local authority control. Second, it is impossible to ignore a contradiction at the heart of the Coalition Government’s position, which is to want less government control and allow greater local discretion and autonomy, on the one hand, and yet at the same time to want a return to a more restricted version of teaching in the classroom and more prescribed behaviour management in schools, on the other. As Fraser Nelson of the Spectator recently observed, this inherent inconsistency creates a ‘paradox’ for David Cameron: “if they [schools] were independent, as he proposes, they would be listening to parents, not the likes of him”. This contradiction raises a deeper question about the Government’s reform agenda: what are these principles of independence, diversity and choice actually for? Are they driven by valuing principles like ‘choice’ as an end in themselves, or are they motivated by the consequences that the application of such principles are assumed to have? As argued above, it is important to have an open mind about such policies. Whether or not one subscribes to the intrinsic value of choice, there could be instrumental reasons for proposing a system based on choice and institutional diversity that deserve proper scrutiny and consideration – for example, seeing competition as an efficient way to improve standards. However, unless the motivation of this approach is purely ideological – which its proponents insist it is not – then the Government must be prepared to review the impact of these changes on issues such as fairness and equality, and to constrain their reforms if they would impact adversely here. So the key question is what the effect of the proposals will actually be. Who will benefit most from the Government’s intention to broaden the Academies programme to allow all maintained schools to apply – and, for the first time, to allow primary schools and special schools to

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy be included in the programme? While the Government’s insistence that new Academies must follow “an inclusive admissions policy” is clearly important, it is doubtful that it will primarily benefit disadvantaged groups. Certainly, the 200 or so existing Academies serve some of the most deprived communities in the country: NFER research shows that existing Academies admit higher proportions of pupils eligible for FSM and pupils with Special Educational Needs compared to the proportions living locally, and lower proportions of pupils with higher KS2 ability compared to the proportion living locally. But the proposal to fast-track schools rated as outstanding will be

bound to benefit a far greater proportion of less disadvantaged schools – those with below-average FSM intake. According to Ofsted, of 588

maintained primary schools judged outstanding in at least their last two inspections by July 2008, less than a quarter were relatively challenged by having a proportion of children eligible for free school meals above 91 the national average of 16.6 per cent. (And even fewer could be categorised as having a disadvantaged intake according to a more demanding range of indicators.) So it seems that the first wave of new Academies will be concentrated in less deprived areas, serving less deprived families and children. There is also real concern about the other aspect of the new Government’s reform agenda, namely, plans to encourage a new generation of ‘free schools’. Under the rubric of creating more choice for parents and ‘freeing schools from local bureaucracy’, the Conservative manifesto set out plans to create hundreds of new schools based on “Swedish-style” academies, arguing that this should become the norm 92 in secondary education. However, there is emerging evidence from Sweden that the introduction of such schools since the mid-1990s has generated increasing inequality and segregation, whilst also coinciding with a decline in standards in key subjects. According to a recent report on the effects of these

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education reforms by the Swedish National Agency for Schools (Skolverket), “In addition to average grades having worsened in certain regards, the spread of grade point averages has widened over time…The variation in results between schools and between various groups of pupils has become more pronounced. The analyses have also pointed to increasing differences in grades attained by various groups of pupils (differentiated by social background, gender, and ethnicity), but most particularly 93 between groups differentiated by parents’ educational background.” So the system has served to strengthen the link between parental background and future child outcomes, not loosen it. Another recent report by the same organisation, found that over two-fifths of municipal heads of education thought that setting up these schools had increased segregation within their area, and heads from areas with a high proportion of 94 pupils in such independent schools were more likely to think this. Importantly, it does not seem as if this increased inequality and segregation has been offset by rising standards; in fact, these reports also show that overall standards in key subject areas have declined in Sweden since the reforms were introduced – particularly in maths and 95 science, but also in some reading skills too. Given the very different capabilities and resources that parents and pupils have to take advantage of such policies, the concern is that intro-

ducing a dynamic like this into our already-divided schools system risks harming the life chances of disadvantaged children over the long run by increasing and entrenching segregation between different social groups.

Achieving a greater social and educational mix In terms of the priorities for school reform in the longer term, then, we need to recognise that increased funding for disadvantaged pupils, though welcome, is not enough in itself to deal with some of the really deep-seated problems of division and segregation within our school system.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy We contend that it is not good enough just to accept this segregation and seek to compensate those on the rough end of the deal with more funding – to be happy to try and improve education for disadvantaged kids provided they don’t mix with your own. And it is unlikely that serious progress to narrow the gaps in attainment will be made if policymakers are simply prepared to accept a significant element of segregation within the system. Certainly, evidence from the OECD’s 2008 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) demonstrates the advantages of social and educational mix, as lower performing children benefit from learning alongside their higher performing peers: international comparisons point to the lower variance between and within schools in less socially divided school systems. (Incidentally, this is not to say that grouping strategies such as setting and streaming, or making separate provision for those with the most severe learning difficulties, are necessarily a problem; indeed, they are often an essential part of educational practice. But, as set out in Chapter 2, where such strategies are used, the onus is on schools to ensure they do not undermine a sense of equal treatment and status, and to minimise any detrimental effects of differentiation, such as stigmatisation.) So the underlying vision has to be one of greater social and educational mix. And this means dealing with the aspects of our system that tend to encourage and maintain this segregation, as well as promoting more mixed communities outside of the school gates. From a policy perspective, ‘success’ shouldn’t just be about ‘compensation’ for the poorest students – through ‘pupil premiums’ and the like – within a fundamentally unequal system; it has to also involve breaking down social barriers. Needless to say, taking action to achieve a greater social mix is far from easy. One possible response would be to regulate admissions more tightly or to reduce institutional diversity. But any such proposals would be politically very challenging: admissions policies remain extremely contentious, and any changes proposed in a local area, such

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education as the use of banding or lotteries to allocate places, or changes to catch97 ment areas, are likely to be strongly contested. Imposing sweeping reforms across the whole system in a ‘top-down’ way would be the wrong approach: it would generate huge public anxiety and would simply not be sustainable if many regard the outcomes as unfair. Ultimately, we need politically sustainable solutions to this problem, and this will require building a public consensus around reforms to create greater social mix in education. In the conclusion of this report, we briefly outline a longer-term strategy for building such a public consensus. But in the first instance, it is worth noting a variety of policy steps that should be taken to achieve greater mix and produce a fairer system. The first step is to enforce a fair admissions policy in all schools – comprehensive, selective, faith-based, and independent alike. This does not mean that all schools must be forced to adopt the same process of admission. Nor would re-establishing the neighbourhood school principle in admissions guarantee that the social divide would lessen; on the contrary, such a move might have the unintended effect of accelerating the migration of more well-off families from local areas with a mixed intake. (As one recent study puts it, “In a situation where the differences have grown too big, making the choice of school more difficult might 98 aggravate the differentiation of areas”. ) In fact, the new Government’s pledge to ensure a fair admissions policy for all new Academies shows what can be done. By insisting on a fair admission process from the outset, and committing to policing it thoroughly, ministers appear to have learned lessons from the political division generated by the 2005 Schools White Paper and subsequent legislation, when the Tony Blair was forced to concede on the issue of fair admissions as the price needed to prevent a backbench rebellion against his plans for school reform. Measures to ensure a fair admissions policy for schools also need to go hand in hand with an agenda of creating more genuinely mixed

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy communities – with income mix as well as tenure mix – to break down social divisions outside schools. More integration between early years and primary education could also be an important step here, since there is far greater social mix in the former than the latter (Children’s Centres, in particular, have often been a site of real social mix). And, of course, heavy investment to improve the most disadvantaged schools will also help over time, by making them more attractive to all parents. Again, the vision needs to be not one of improving schools in disadvantaged areas simply to benefit the poorest children, but to ensure that these schools become not just for the poorest children. And, finally, while we have said that a politically sustainable solution here requires a long-term and multi-faceted strategy, what we can also say is that reforms should be avoided that might further increase institutional segregation. It is for this reason that we would urge the Government to rethink some of their recent reform proposals.

3. Helping young people negotiate stable and successful transitions to adulthood Earlier chapters noted the difference in educational pathways and trajectories that tend to be followed by young people from more and less advantaged backgrounds. Comparisons of the 1958 and 1970 cohorts demonstrate a growing polarisation between slow and fast transitions from adolescence to adulthood – that is, differences in the length of time that individuals take to ‘progress’ into stable employment, family formation and living independently. Some young people face life events which force them to grow up very quickly; others are more protected, able to enjoy a longer and smoother transition. Of particular concern for policy-makers has been the association between ‘fast’ transitions and a range of poor outcomes in adulthood: young people who leave education early are more likely to have no or

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education low qualifications, become parents early, have poor health and labour market outcomes, and be at higher risk of experiencing poverty. Under the previous Labour Government, a wide range of policy initiatives over the last decade sought to increase participation in education and support young people in the transition to adulthood, including the ‘NEET’ strategy, the introduction of the Connexions Service, Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs), Activity Agreements and Care 2 Learn (for teenage mothers), the partial redesign of the 14-19 curriculum and phased introduction of the new diplomas, and the raising of the Education Participation Age to 18 in 2015. As a result of these efforts, there has been some success in raising participation in upper secondary education (particularly through the use of financial incentives via EMAs), though less evidence of success in raising attainment or closing the gap in soft skills. But poor rates of participation and high rates of attrition by disad99 vantaged groups remain. In particular, various revisions of the NEET strategy failed to reduce the proportion of young people who are not in education, employment and training. This failure is particularly worrying, given the long-term repercussions of youth unemployment, which is a substantial driver of poor outcomes in adulthood (and the 100 subsequent transmission of poor life chances to children). Labour clearly needed to be more ambitious here. Although the individual components of the NEET strategy were valid – early identification and tracking; personalised support and guidance; a flexible mix of learning; and incentives to re-engage – what was missing from the strategy was a comprehensive focus on prevention. If the young person’s experience of schooling is already affected by earlier negative experiences, then early identification will not address the fundamental problem. To prevent the problem of early school leaving and non-participation in education or training, we need to start by changing those aspects of the mainstream education system which

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy cause young people to become disengaged from learning in the first place. •

Young people do not have a ‘blank canvass’ for making decisions about their future. Individuals make decisions within ‘horizons for action’, which are shaped both by their life histories and interactions with other people, and their emerging social identity as a learner, which in turn is shaped by earlier experiences of learning 101 in different educational settings. In this context, the framework of assessment and performance targets is a notable influence; at the moment it is a significant source of division and disengagement within the school system. As Hinett observes, “The psychological literature illustrates the potential for assessment systems to induce negative emotional responses to tasks that debilitate devel102 opment”. So there is a need to remove the features of this system which can cause disengagement.

this will mean greater emphasis on formative functions of assessment (to support pupils’ learning), along with the use of a wider range of assessment tools than formal written tests alone, including the greater use of teachers’ professional judgement.

In terms of assessment,

Additionally, the system of performance targets still focuses on a very narrow view of what counts in education, failing to recognise the clear evidence that a wider range of generic skills are just as important for cognitive development as traditional subject knowledge. Targets are needed which embody a broader

view of education, recognising that soft skills can matter just as much for children’s development and future outcomes as ‘hard’ skills.

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education •

Another crucial priority must be to make the learning of ‘soft skills’ more mainstream, including building children’s confidence as learners, and developing the characteristics that help young people cope with pressures and challenges. There is a large and growing body of evidence that suggests that functional reasoning, and social and self-management skills are fundamental to adolescent development, yet malleable – so that inequalities that emerge 103 in childhood can be addressed in adolescence. Unfortunately, there is currently a false divide in policy: people tend to think in terms of ‘mainstream’ policies and the ‘standards agenda’, on the one hand, and then about additional ‘positive activities’ as a desirable extra, on the other. Of course, no-one would deny the importance of good GCSE attainment for young people; but a more complex interaction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills means that schools should not be governed by accountability frameworks that privilege the acquisition of formal learning to the detriment of wider forms of learning which can help develop soft skills. So

much greater emphasis needs to be placed on developing these skills, including informal and non-formal learning through participation in a range of activities and volunteering. This is an area where the Government should also draw on the expertise of youth workers and practitioners, not just to promote re-engagement with learning but also to prevent disengagement in the first place. •

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An important additional goal must be to promote clearer pathways through further and higher education, whilst ensuring and enhancing flexibility. There are currently a plethora of curricular options, which may sometimes make it more difficult for young people to understand what is on offer, and more difficult for schools, colleges and training providers to offer effective informa104 tion, advice and guidance services. Several reforms are important here: • The new Government should reduce curricular


Learning the lessons for politics and policy

complexity by moving towards a more unified qualification framework for upper secondary education, one that would be more readily understood by students, colleges, employers and higher education institutions; •

The Government should continue to strengthen provision for vocational education. Advanced Apprenticeships have a crucial role to play by providing a highly valued and widely recognised alternative to higher education, one which offers rewarding rates of return for individuals, employers and government.

•

The Government should extend the Connexions service to offer young people aged 16 to 25 a more comprehensive body of support and guidance, in

place of the more limited service provided by the Adult Career Advancement Agency; •

The Government must ensure that taking up vocational options does not preclude a route back into higher education or retraining at a later stage. More

transparent entrance requirements and procedures are needed to make it possible for young people who have followed unconventional pathways to access places at higher education, including the top universities. The need for transparency and greater recognition particularly applies to vocational qualifications, which are 105 not always recognised as entry requirements.

Narrowing the gap in participation in higher education Chapter 1 highlighted the class gaps in participation in higher education: young people from less advantaged backgrounds with school results near the top of the range are nevertheless less likely to go to university than their more advantaged peers. And there is a strong

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education gradient by social class for those attending more prestigious ‘Russell Group’ universities. What are the issues involved here for reformers to address? •

One is disparities in the patterns of application to university. Young people with the same school results nevertheless tend to apply to different institutions depending on their social background. Addressing this could make an important contribution to narrowing the gap. One often-made point here is the importance of ensuring that all schoolchildren have access to decent careers advice in the first place, especially as regards university applications, and of course this is important. But a more radical approach here might be to look afresh at the responsibility of HE institutions themselves for attracting bigger volumes of applications from particular social groups. Currently, all HE institutions have to have an ‘access agreement’, approved by the Office of Fair Access (OFFA), which, as well as setting out financial support for students from low-income households, also typically sets out planned outreach activities to under-represented groups. Often these agreements include universities’ own self-imposed targets for addressing under-representation, though these are usually couched in terms of achieving certain proportions of intake from particular social groups. An important development here, however, which could ultimately be more effective at driving forward progress, would be for OFFA to ask HE institutions to set

targets specifically for the volume of applications they should aim to attract from under-represented groups.106 Asking universities to

take more responsibility for shaping their own demand would enable Russell Group universities to lead the way in attracting the brightest pupils from all backgrounds. •

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Related to applications, of course, is the funding of higher education. Notably, the increase in participation amongst disadvantaged


Learning the lessons for politics and policy youngsters continued after the introduction of variable tuition fees in 2006 – in part, testament to the work of OFFA. It is crucial that OFFA is maintained and its remit is promoted by government. But we should be doing better. And there are still concerns that upfront fees could be a disincentive to participation for some groups – even taking into account the fact that most students do not pay until after they have finished studying (they get an inflationlinked loan that does not start to be repaid until earnings are over £15,000). One issue is that you are asking students to take on debt, without the guarantee of future success. A related point is that individual contributions are not related to the subsequent benefits obtained. It has become increasingly accepted that students should make some contribution to the cost of higher education, with even the National Union of Students now calling reform of the prin107 ciple, rather than reversal. But we should move away from the

system of up-front fees to a system of retrospective income-related payment, such as a graduate tax. •

Another issue, of course, is that of HE admissions. As autonomous institutions, it is right that universities should control their own admissions procedures. But that doesn’t mean that their approach to admissions can’t be scrutinised and challenged. Our view is that applicants should be admitted on merit, rather than applying quotas or affirmative action. But the key point is that educational potential needs to be taken into account more strongly when judging merit (for example, through better use of teacher references), rather than simply using demonstrated ability. As part of the Widening Participation Strategic Assessments, the previous Labour Government asked HE institutions to publish their admissions policies and illustrate how they contribute to their widening participation strategies. As part of this and future rounds of

Strategic Assessments, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) should ask HE institutions to indicate how they 79


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education

assess factors like educational potential and what role these factors play in admissions policy. Winning the political argument on access to higher education Attempts to widen access to higher education through reforming the admissions system will always be a magnet for dissent. The issue is of course difficult because it means that some, more ‘advantaged’, young people may not get a place at their preferred institution. Whenever the debate crops up, newspapers abound with stories of exceptionally bright young people from advantaged backgrounds being denied places at the best universities. There are differences in public attitudes here according to social class and previous level of education. In particular, there is a strong belief among some groups in the legitimacy of the ‘educational market place’, with outcomes assumed to be fair rewards for effort. Interestingly, it is those who are

less familiar with the education system who tend to believe in it most, that is, who have greatest faith in this ‘legitimating’ role that education system itself plays, and who are the least willing to intervene. Winning the political argument means understanding people’s intuitive conceptions of fairness here: as discussed in the previous chapter, this is one of rewarding effort and results. In particular, it is crucial that reforms do not look as if they are ‘imposing’ fairness at the expense of a ‘deserving’ group (hence concerns about ‘affirmative action’, which looks like discriminating against certain groups). University

80


Learning the lessons for politics and policy admissions policies that appear to deny young people places at university on the grounds of family background are regarded as unfair because, although some children start with greater advantages, the outcomes that they achieve have still been worked for, so are seen as deserved. Of course, many progressives may be convinced of the case for taking disadvantage into account, since young people from disadvantaged backgrounds may have to work harder than others to achieve good interim results. But the key is not to dwell on these ‘backward-looking’ arguments about the disadvantage that young people have experienced, since these make it seem as if those concerned are being admitted on the basis of this disadvantage. Instead, the focus must be on the fairness of giving individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to demonstrate that they can go on to achieve the highest results – emphasising that they will be judged on effort and results as they progress. Indeed, this would have the additional advantage of incentivising universities to do more than simply grant places to students from disadvantaged backgrounds; they also need to ensure that the necessary support is in place to see them through and reduce attrition rates.

4. Guarantee lifetime opportunities for learning, training and further study for all There are significant inequalities in access to training and further education through people’s lives. Your opportunities for accessing training differ depending on your position in the labour market and existing skill level. As highlighted in Chapter 1, employees without any qualifications are four times less likely to be offered training by their employer

81


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education compared to graduate employees, and the TUC estimates that 44 per cent of the workforce – some 10 million employees – were not offered any training at all by their employer last year. Recent policies on adult education and lifelong learning have not yet made sufficient inroads into these inequalities. On basic skills, the Skills for Life programme has given two and half million adults a first qualification in literacy, language or numeracy; the Train-to-Gain programme has expanded opportunities and provision for intermediate skills; and the introduction of union learning reps has also been an important step in improving access to training. Nevertheless, those in the lowest-skilled jobs continue to be least able to access these opportunities. •

to guarantee access to learning, training and further study to all citizens and all parts of the workforce across the life course, including the increasing number of In policy terms, the ultimate goal must be

people who are expected to become self-employed over the next decade, and also for older people who may need particular support in gaining ICT skills to assist their learning. There is also a need for government to consider how it can enable the development of soft skills, because relatively few employers are engaging in this area. •

Here, protecting and building on government investment in skills is crucial, particularly in the current fiscal climate. While it is right that employers must bear some of the costs of skills provision, it is also incumbent upon the Government to share a significant proportion of the costs. This is not only because of the wider social and economic benefits of improving skills, but also because employer-led interest in skills development will always be constrained in focus. In particular, the Government should

urgently reconsider planned cuts to skills provision, such as that provided through the Train to Gain scheme, ahead of the spending review this autumn.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy •

Working with employers is of course essential in adult skills, since they not only have an important stake in the skills of the workforce, but are also a central provider of opportunities for training. But it is important to recognise the drawback of a purely employer-led system: opportunities for accessing training depend on employers’ willingness to support it. Here, one might question the appropriateness of employers being able to act as a ‘gatekeeper’ to learning on grounds of both principle and practice. Some (for example, many in routine manual occupations) might face particular obstacles in accessing opportunities for training if their employers do not consider the skills in question (for example, computing skills) as necessary to their job. And an employer-led system clearly will not address the needs of all, since many adult learners undertake further study in order to move away from their 108 current job. For these reasons, working with employers and business representatives, we need to move further towards giving employees rights to access learning. The right-to-request time to train introduced in April 2010 is an important step here, and government will need to monitor its uptake and success carefully, looking in particular at reasonable grounds for refusal. Ultimately, however, we would argue for a flexibly structured ‘right to

training’, with employers having the ability to decide how this would be organised around work in each individual case. •

Projecting forward over the next decade, a fair and effective lifelong learning strategy needs to ensure flexibility in terms of where and when people can learn, and in particular to offer far greater opportunities for adult learners to engage in learning and training at convenient times and in ‘bite-sized’ chunks that can be incorporated within their other commitments. As previously discussed, the rhetoric of choice in education has been heavily focussed around choice of secondary school, without a wider consideration

83


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education of how the value of choice might be applied in other contexts, especially around opportunities for learning throughout life. For example, the current system generally assumes that higher education students will be recent school leavers wishing to study fulltime, having followed the traditional academic pathway from A-levels into university. As such, there is a shortage of choices for people who follow less conventional routes and pathways into further and higher education, including those who wish to study part-time and combine learning with employment or caring responsibilities. One solution here would be to develop a widely

recognised credit-based system to allow people to complete component parts of a qualification in different stages. *

*

*

In this chapter, we have assessed some of the new Government’s education policies against the ‘fairness tests’ set out in earlier chapters, and discussed a range of possible reforms at different stages of the education system, with the objective of narrowing the class gap in attainment and experiences. In the final chapter, we conclude by discussing briefly some controversial issues in the politics of education reform, and the changes of mindset that will be needed to make deeper progress in narrowing the gaps and working towards a fairer system for all.

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5 | Conclusion: Building a public consensus for more fundamental reform

I

n this report we have argued for some radical reforms at various stages of the education system, in order to shift us over the long term towards a fairer, more inclusive and less segregated system, where every child would genuinely have the chance to achieve his or her potential. The politics of a more mixed and inclusive education system is difficult, to say the least. That is why the approach we envisage here is deliberately a long-term one, motivated by consensus-building. Imposing changes across the whole system in a ‘top-down’ way is bound to be politically unsustainable if they are not seen as fair and generate anxiety for many parents. Entrenching change will only be possible by gaining public support for reforms and establishing consensus within communities about the underlying objectives of mix and equality. We shouldn’t be pessimistic about the prospect of achieving such a consensus, but doing so requires a long-term and subtle strategy to overcome fatalism about reform and address the causes of parental anxiety. Importantly, simply regurgitating the data about the class gaps in education is not enough to win the political argument for removing

85


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education inequalities within the system. While egalitarians may of course be convinced of the case for action, simply having a ‘say it louder’ version of traditional egalitarian arguments for reform won’t achieve this. So what are the political arguments that can help build political consensus around reforms to achieve a fairer education system with greater social and educational mix? We think three strategies are particularly important.

Overcoming a sense of fatalism and inevitability The first task for campaigners is to overcome people’s sense of fatalism and inevitability by showing that inequalities in education are not fixed or immutable. International evidence can be powerful here: comparisons provide useful and persuasive evidence to show that in many countries the link between family background and children’s outcomes is far less pronounced. Importantly, recent OECD evidence also shows that the situation in the UK is not fixed either: trends over time show that the relationship between parents’ socio-economic position and children’s outcomes has become less strong.

Overcoming fear and anxiety Second, to make a compelling political argument for reform, we need to understand how the general pattern of educational chances conceals the reality of the system for many families, whatever their socio-economic status, which is one of struggle and insecurity. The unifying message from parents is that the current system creates a high degree of stress and anxiety. Even for ‘winners’ from the system, there is lots of anxiety from the process involved. The point is that problems with the existing system affect everyone. And while public opinion is divided on possible solutions, all can unite around the need to remove anxiety from the system, especially around the choice of school at age 11. The offer to parents needs to be that the objective of reform is that they would be able to send their child to any school in the country.

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Conclusion A related point is that for many parents, even though they may recognise the unfairness of various parts of the system, being under enormous pressure to do what is best for their own children, they often feel they have no choice but to try and ‘play’ the system, regardless of the impact on other children. Ultimately, we need to move away from a system that pulls parents in opposite directions, forcing them to choose between their social values and perceptions about what they need to do for their own children. Where does this parental anxiety come from? The reality is that choices around schools often aren’t about positive choices relating to school quality and competitive advantage, but rather negative ones about avoiding the ‘wrong sort of school’. And there is no point avoiding what this means in practice for many parents: avoiding schools with the ‘wrong sort of children’, who would be considered a bad influence. To achieve lasting change, therefore, we need to start by tackling the underlying fears among ‘middle-class’ parents of more socially-mixed schools. While there are many challenges here, a large part of this is about the narrative we use in education. Debates about education in the UK have long been characterised by what Stephen Ball has called ‘discourses of division’. Discussions about ‘standards’ and ‘educational failure’, which speak to legitimate concerns about the quality of education, are in practice often elided with a more visceral set of concerns about the state of Britain, crime, ‘feral children’ and a range of other moral panics. An important consequence of this elision is that very large social groups, like ‘low-income households’ or those from ‘disadvantaged areas’, are often conflated in the public mind with very small social groups with extreme behaviours, such as ‘chaotic families’ or those engaged in anti-social behaviour. The result is that discourses around educational failure and failing schools are tied up with an underlying fear of mixing with particular social groups.

87


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education The Conservatives’ narrative on education, in particular, has been especially focussed around the language of ‘educational failure’, which is in turn tied to narratives around ‘Broken Britain’. But Labour sometimes fell into this trap too: some of the narratives around the ‘Respect’ agenda were especially guilty of this, even if the underlying concerns were perfectly valid. Ironically, this prevented the Labour Government getting public credit for much of the good work they did on tackling exclusion, since the narratives around policy encouraged a massively exaggerated view of the scale of the problem in public consciousness.

Changing the terms of the debate One very important step, then, would be to change the terms of the debate. We need a new kind of narrative about educational inequality, one that reduces the social distance between disadvantaged pupils and everyone else, rather than increasing it. In particular, we need to stop falling into the trap of conflating ideas like ‘low-income groups’ or those in ‘disadvantaged areas’ with extreme examples of a small number of ‘chaotic’ families with multiple and intense needs, including behavioural problems that impinge on the wider community. In turn, this would benefit from moving discussions about schooling and standards out of the framing of ‘educational failure’. This needs to happen in parallel with some of the policy solutions discussed in the previous chapter: we also have to tackle some of the underlying problems that give rise to these fears. The first step here needs to be heavy investment in the most disadvantaged schools, not to shore up a failing system, but to create schools where every parent would be proud to send their children. Here the vision is not one of improving schools in disadvantaged areas so as to benefit the poorest children, but to make it so that they are not just for the poorest children. Rather than encouraging middle-class families to exit from state services, as some on the right have traditionally advocated, we need to consider positive inducements and incentives to middle class families not to withdraw from state schools.

88


Conclusion Measures like this also need to go hand in hand with an agenda of creating more genuinely mixed communities – with income mix as well as tenure mix – to break down social divisions outside schools. More integration between early years and primary education could also be an important step here, since there is far greater social mix in the former than the latter (Children’s Centres, in particular, have often been a site of real social mix.) Only by addressing these underlying anxieties can we pave the way for greater integration in education.

Ending the real poverty of aspiration Finally, we need a further change of mindset too – this time among our political elites. For a strong driving force that maintains divisions and inequalities within our education system is a belief on the part of many politicians, decision-makers and practitioners that such divisions and inequalities are inevitable – a belief, for example, that there will always be particular groups who are somehow just destined to fill low-skilled and poor quality jobs. This is perhaps most clearly seen in views towards measures to encourage extended participation in education, and particularly higher education. The Conservatives have recently been opposed to measures such as Educational Maintenance Allowances and raising the Participation Age to 18 in 2015. And both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have also been opposed to a goal of getting half of young people into higher education, even though more than half say they want to go. Politicians often say there’s a problem with ‘poverty of aspiration’ in Britain. Well there is: a profound lack of ambition among too many of our political class for disadvantaged kids. Only when we stop thinking about the education system in ways that anticipate division and failure, and only when we stop expecting children from different backgrounds to follow different pathways, will we really be able to get to grips with some of the long-entrenched inequalities in our education system.

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90


Endnotes

1. National Equality Panel (2010) An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel, London, Government

Equalities Office; Marmot Review (2010) Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England Post 2010, London, The Marmot Review.

2. This is traditionally measured using pupils’ eligibility for receiving free school meals – because entitlement to free school meals depends on

parents’ eligibility for income-related benefits. However, eligibility

for FSM is only an approximate measure of disadvantage – and reservations are expressed about its use as a proxy measure.

3. Vastly more is known about the extent of educational inequality than was

the case just twenty years ago. A wealth of data now exists on pupil and school attainment in England, on national averages of attain-

ment (measured across the whole cohort of over 600,000 young people each year), and we also have a more detailed picture of the differences and gaps in attainment, measured at the level of local

areas and schools, and taking into account ethnicity and socioeconomic background. The existence of this dataset owes much to the

priorities of government over the last two decades, First we saw the

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education drive of the Conservative Government in the early 1990s to introduce national tests of attainment and make the results publicly avail-

able, as a way of making schools more accountable and promoting parental ‘choice’. More recently there has been greater attention

under the Labour Government to the size of the education gaps and greater efforts to close them, which has led to more refined data and analysis.

4. Longitudinal analysis of data from the national cohort studies allows us to explore the relationship between earlier childhood experiences and outcomes on the one hand and later life outcomes on the other.

5. Of course, attainment gaps do not in themselves specify the impact of the education system as distinct from broader factors and processes

outside the education system. But they can certainly help us predict the likelihood of children subsequently achieving particular

outcomes. They can also indicate when the educations system is failing to tackle such inequalities.

6. Hansen, K. and Joshi, H. (eds.) (2008) Millennium Cohort Study third survey: a user's guide to initial findings.

7. Department of Children, Schools and Families (2009) Deprivation and

Education: The evidence on pupils in England, Foundation Stage to Key Stage 4, London: DCSF.

8. Marmot Review (2010) Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England Post 2010, London, The Marmot Review.

9. Blanden, J., Hansen, K. and Machin, S. (2008) The GDP cost of the lost earning potential of adults who grew up in poverty, York, Joseph

Rowntree Foundation.

10. Feinstein, L. (2003) ‘Inequality in the early cognitive development of British children in the 1970 cohort’, Economica, 70(1), 2003;

11. Blanden, J. (2008) Analysis of Millennium Cohort Study for the Sutton Trust

12. Hansen, K. and Joshi, H. (eds.) (2008) Millennium Cohort Study third survey: a user's guide to initial findings.

13. Marmot Review (2010) Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England

92


Endnotes Post 2010, London, The Marmot Review.

14. Lexmond, J. and Reeves, J. (2009) Building Character, London: Demos.

15. Ball, S. (2006) Education policy and social class: the selected works of Stephen J. Ball, London, Routledge.

16. Melhuish, E. (2004) A literature review of the impact of early years provi-

sion on young children, London: National Audit Office. Sammons, P., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E. et al. (2007) Effective pre-school and

primary education 3-11 project.

17. Waldfogel, J. and Garnham, A. (2008) Childcare and child poverty, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

18. Ball, S. (2003) Class Strategies and the Education Market: The middle classes and social advantage, London: Routledge Falmer.

19. Burgess, S., Briggs, A., McConnell, B. and Slater, H. (2006) School

Choice in England: Background Facts, Working Paper No. 06/159; Bristol University, Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

20. Burgess et al. (2006), p.10. In this study, ‘school quality’ is measured by the previous league table score of the school in terms of the

percentage of its pupils awarded at least 5 A* to C grades at GCSE.

21. Evidence for the link between pupil social backgrounds and educational

advantage was derived from the GCSE results held by DCSF, all of which were linked to background information from the census. An

estimate of the social background of each pupil was calculated as

the proportion of the resident population aged 16 to 74 in the three highest categories of ‘managerial or professional occupations’ for

the Output Area in which the home was located. (The Output Area is the smallest area for which Census data is available, with around

125 dwellings.) In addition to recording the performance and socioeconomic characteristic of each pupil, the dataset also records the GCSE performance and social characteristics of the school attended.

22. Sutton Trust (2007) ‘Rates of Eligibility for free school meals at the Top State Schools’There is also evidence that many pupils with special

educational needs (SEN) have underlying educational needs that are

linked to deprivation. (Of course, this does not imply that depriva-

93


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education tion is the sole factor; the term ‘special educational needs’ encompasses a wide range of needs, including some which have no partic-

ular correlation with deprivation. See Lindsay, G. et al. (2006)

‘Special educational needs and ethnicity: issues of over- and under-

representation’, Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research / Institute of Education / University of Warwick.) And in

2006, pupils with SEN were more than twice as likely to be eligible for free school meals as those without.

23. Department of Children, Schools and Families (2009) Deprivation and

Education: The evidence on pupils in England, Foundation Stage to Key Stage 4, London: DCSF.

24. Evidence from a recent study of primary school teaching practices, for

example, indicates that the overall teaching quality had a stronger net influence on reading and mathematics than some background

factors, including being eligible for FSM. Sammons, J. et al. (2006) Effective Pre-school and Primary Education 3-11 Project (EPPE 3-11)

The Influence of School and Teaching Quality on Children’s Progress

in Primary School, DCSF Research Report RR028.

25. Sammons, J. et al. (2006) Effective Pre-school and Primary Education 311 Project (EPPE 3-11) Summary Report: Variations in Teacher and Pupil Behaviours in Year 5 Classes, DfES Research Report 817.

26. DfES (2004) Teacher Turnover, Wastage and Destinations. 27. Marshall et al. (2007, p. 67)

28. O’Donnell, L. et al. (2006) Education outside the classroom: as assessment of activity and practice in schools and local authorities, DfES Research Report RR803.

29. Muschamp, Y., Bullock, K., Ridge, T., Wikeley, F., (2009). 'Nothing to do': the impact of poverty on pupils' learning identities within out-ofschool activities. British Educational Research Journal, 35 (2), pp. 305-321.

30. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009). Deprivation and

Education: The evidence on pupils in England, Foundation stage to Key Stage 4. London: DCSF.

94


Endnotes 31. According to the recent report of the National Equality Panel, more than

three-quarters of young men and women who achieved the best results (more than 49 points in the GCSE scores used) in 2002-03

were in higher education by 2006-07; of pupils with the lowest

attainment at 16 (under 33 points), fewer than a fifth went on to university.

32. Machin et al. (2009). The Russell Group is an association of 20 major research-intensive universities of the United Kingdom, including the

universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton, Warwick, and Imperial College

London, King’s College London, London School of Economics and Political Science, Queen’s University Belfast, and University College London.

33. ONS (2009) Education and Training Statistics for the United Kingdom, London: Office for National Statistics.

34. TUC / Unionlearn (2009) Right to training is on the right track, London: TUC.

35. Note that the same principles and distributive norms may not be appro-

priate to all phases of education. As we shall see, there may be good reasons for adopting comprehensive principles in the earliest phases

of education, for example to allocate places at nursery or primary

school. Conversely, there may be a stronger case for applying a meritocratic or results-based principle to admission to university than to school.

37. The philosophical objection is that we should reject family background as undeserved, because it is not something for which we are responsible.

38. Ridge, T. (2009) Living with Poverty: a review of the literature on children’s and families’ experiences of poverty, London: Child Poverty Unit.

39. For further information see the Hampshire Research with Primary Schools (HARPS) - A multidisciplinary investigation into the impact of school composition on pupils' experiences and outcomes.

95


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education 40. Brighouse, H. (2000) School Choice and Social Justice, Oxford: OUP

41. Pedley, R. (1963) The Comprehensive School, Penguin Books; Benn, M.

and Millar, F. (2005) A Comprehensive Future: Quality and Equality

for all our children.

42. Wragge, E.C. (1993) Education: A Different Vision, London: IPPR.

43. Burgess, S., Briggs, A., McConnell, B. and Slater, H. (2006) School

Choice in England: Background Facts, Working Paper No. 06/159; Bristol University, Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

44. This is part of the problem of ‘middle-class capture’, by which the

middle-classes are said to extract greater benefit from public services such as health and education than people in working class posi-

tions, both because of their collective lobbying power and because

of the aggregate effects of their individual ability to ‘work the system’.

45. As critics of a market-based system have long argued, the idea that each school can be ‘judged on its specific character and on its merits, rather than as one of a hierarchically arranged series of ‘types’ … is to ignore the history of English education’ (Wragge, 1993).

46. Swift, A. (2004) ‘The Morality of School Choice’, Theory and Research in Education 2004.

47. Brighouse, H. (2000) School Choice and Social Justice, Oxford: OUP.

49. Green, A. (1990) Education and State Formation. The Rise of Education

Systems in England, France and the USA, Macmillan. Arnot, M., David, M. and Weiner, G. (1999) Closing the Gender Gap: post-war education and social change, Cambridge, Polity Press.

50. As historians of education have noted, the primary function of the school system at this time was a differentiating one, to maintain ‘the styles

of life of different strata and the supply of appropriately socialised

recruits to them’ (Floud and Halsey 1958, p. 177, cited in Brown 1990).

51. Hurt, J (1985) Education and the Working-Classes from the Eighteenth Century to the Twentieth Century.

52. In 1938, only one fifth of all children received a formal education after

96


Endnotes age 14.

53. Brown, P. (1990) ‘The ‘Third Wave’: education and the ideology of paren-

tocracy, British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 11, issue 1, pp. 65-86.

54. Its chief architect, Tory President of the Board of Education Rab Butler, set

out to achieve the goal of a ‘secondary education for all’, which had first been raised in the inter-war years, with an expectation that

compulsory education should be provided for all young people, at least part-time, up to the age of 18. In the event, Butler’s expecta-

tion has yet to be realised in the six decades since the Act was

passed. The 1944 Act required local education authorities (LEAs) to

provide state-funded education for pupils, but only up to the age of 15, with a subsequent extension bringing the compulsory leaving

age up to 16 in 1973. Under current government proposals, Butler’s

expectation for participation up to 18 is finally, and belatedly, due to be fulfilled in 2015.

55. The failure to establish technical schools was a major disappointment of

the post-war period, leading to the lack of a coherent model of voca-

tional education which could enjoy parity of esteem with the academic pathway. Despite thirty years of initiatives since the 1970s

which have sought to bolster the vocational system, the idea that vocational courses are for ‘less able students’ continues to be an enduring feature of the UK’s system today.

See McCulloch, G.

(1989) The Secondary Technical School: A Usable Past?

56. Cox, C and Boyson, R (eds.) (1977) Black Paper, London: Temple Smith;

The Hillgate Group (1986) Whose Schools: A Radical Manifesto, London: Hillgate Group.

57. For many on the right, the issue of ‘standards’ has been as much a moral matter as an educational one, arising from a perception that tradi-

tional authority, leadership and elite culture were under threat, and a desire to reverse a perceived shift from elite to mass culture.

58. Brown, P. (1990) ‘The ‘Third Wave’: education and the ideology of paren-

tocracy, British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 11, issue 1,

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education pp. 65-86.

59. Polling by MORI / Sutton Trust, 2008

60. Bamfield, L. and Horton, T. (2009) Understanding attitudes towards tackling economic inequality, York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

61. Lane, R. (1959) ‘Fear of Equality’, American Political Science Review, 59 (1), pp. 35-51.

62. Labour sought to prove its commitment to better and fairer standards in schools, with five eye-catching pledges in its 1997 Manifesto, including promises to cut class sizes to 30 or under for children from

the ages of five to seven by redirecting funds from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme, and to increase the number of

teachers by 10,000, thereby improving teaching conditions in secondary schools.

63. The Literacy Task Force, led by Michael Barber, was established by the

Labour Party whilst still in Opposition, in May 1996. Its purpose was to develop a strategy for substantially improving attainment in literacy in primary schools in England over the next decade. The

idea of a daily literacy hour in primary schools was a key recommendation in its interim and final reports, though the idea had actu-

ally been initiated by the Department of Education and Employment under the Conservative Government in 1996.

64. Literacy Task Force (1997a) A Reading Revolution – how can we help

every child to read well?; Literacy Task Force, (1997b) The Implementation of the National Literacy Hour.

65. In 2003 the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies were amalgamated into the National Primary Strategy.

66. As set out in the 2001 White Paper: ‘Schools – Achieving Success’, diver-

sity was trailed as a means of raising education standards at secondary level. The idea was that encouraging schools to develop

their own distinct ethos and character and encouraging greater diversity and flexibility would deliver high minimum standards in education and higher standards overall.

http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/schooldiversity/what_is_school_diver-

98


Endnotes sity/?version=1

67. Burgess, S., Briggs, A., McConnell, B. and Slater, H. (2006) School

Choice in England: Background Facts, Working Paper No. 06/159; Bristol University, Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

68. Daycare Trust (2008) Childcare Futures: Policy Insight Paper 2, London:

Daycare Trust. Child Poverty Action Group; Marmot Review (2009)

Taskforce on Early Years Education.

69. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) The Children’s

Plan;, London: The Stationary Office; DCSF (2009) Breaking the Link between disadvantage and low attainment: Everybody’s Business, London: DCSF.

70. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) The Children’s Plan, London: The Stationary Office

71. Ed Balls, speech to Daycare Trust, 2009

72. HM Government (2010) The Coalition: Our programme for government, available

at:

http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/409088/pfg_coalition.pdf

73. See previous footnote

74. Daycare Trust (2008) Childcare Futures: Policy Insight Paper 2, London:

Daycare Trust. Child Poverty Action Group; Marmot Review (2009)

Taskforce on Early Years Education.

75. Ofsted (2009) The impact of integrated services on children and their families in Sure Start children’s centres.

76. National Evaluation of Sure Start (2007) Changes in the Characteristics

of SSLP Areas between 2000/01 and 2004/05, NESS Research Report 201.

77. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100043129/the-jokeis-over-for-middle-class-mums/

78. Ofsted (2009) The Impact of Integrated Services on Children and their Families in Sure Start Chidlren’s Centres; Audit Commission (2010)

Giving Children a Healthy Start; Children, Schools and Families Select Committee (2009-2010) Sure Start Children’s Centres.

79. These issues are discussed further in The Solidarity Society: Why we can

99


What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education afford to end poverty, and how to do it with public support (Tim Horton and James Gregory, The Fabian Society, 2009).

80. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) The Children’s

Plan, London: The Stationary Office; DCSF (2009) The Children’s

Plan: Two Years On, London: The Stationary Office; DCSF (2009) Breaking the Link

81. Although a number of stability measures aimed at the local authority funding process were introduced in 2003 by Charles Clarke, then Education Secretary, in response to the alleged “crisis” in school

funding, which saw some schools struggling to pay staff, a subse-

quent Audit Commission investigation found that the problem lay

not with annual revenue funding via local authorities, but with “the late announcement of changes to major specific grants (particularly

the Standards Fund)”, which left “some schools better off than expected and some schools with less funding than anticipated”

(Audit Commission (2004) Education Funding: the impact and effectiveness of measures to stabilise school funding, p. 2).

82. McKinsey & Company (2007) How the world’s best performing school systems

come

out

on

top,

available

at:

http://www.mckinsey.com/App_Media/Reports/SSO/Worlds_School

_Systems_Final.pdf

83. http://www.teachfirst.org.uk/what_is_teachfirst/our_mission

85. Ofsted (2009) Twelve outstanding secondary schools: excelling against the odds

86. Ridge, T. (2009) Living with Poverty: a review of the literature on children’s

and families’ experiences of poverty, London: Child Poverty Unit.

Key studies in this area include Roker, 1998; Ridge 2002; ATD

Fourth World, 2000; Willow 2001; Crowley and Vulliamy 2007;

Horgan, 2007a, 2007b; 2009; Sutton et al, 2007; Wikeley et al, 2007.

87. As the Child Poverty Action Group’s ‘2skint4school’ campaign advocates, action is needed in each area to ensure that no child is prevented

from taking part in fun and rewarding learning activities and expe-

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Endnotes riences because her parents are unable to afford the costs.

88. In the short term, a potential option would be just to extend free school meals to children whose parents qualify for working tax credit.

89. As detailed in Chapter 2, Labour backbenchers’ protests against meas-

ures to promote ‘choice and diversity’ in the 2005 Schools White

Paper and 2006 Education Bill forced the Government to make a number of significant concessions during the passage of the Bill,

including plans to monitor Trusts, to ensure an important and effec-

tive role for the local authorities, and to take measures to protect against unfair admissions by strengthening the then voluntary school admissions code.

90. OECD (2007) Programme for International Student Assessment.

91. Ofsted (2009) Characteristics of outstanding primary schools in challenging circumstances.

https://ofsted.gov.uk/content/download/.../file/20ops_2_characteristics.pdf

92. “The country that provides the closest model for what we wish to do is Sweden. Over the past fifteen years, Sweden has introduced a new

system that has allowed the creation of many new high quality state schools that are independent from political control. All parents have

the power to take their child out of a state school and apply to a new independent state school. The money that went to the failing state school is transferred to the new independent school…These are the basic dynamics we will introduce into the British school system.” (Raising the Bar, Closing the Gap, 2007, Conservative Party)

93. ‘What influences educational achievement in Swedish schools?’, Skolverket, 2010.

94. ‘Independent schools as part of the system: 1991-2004’, Skolverket, 2006.

95. On standards within the new independent schools, the Director-General

of Skolverket recently explained that: “The students in the new

schools, they have in general better standards [i.e. outcomes], but it

has to do with their parents, their backgrounds. They come from

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What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education well-educated families.” (Per Thullberg, Newsnight, 8 February 2010).

97. Witness parents’ reactions to the decision by Brighton and Hove City Council in 2007 to use a random ballot to allocate places to oversubscribed schools. In this case, parents’ objections to the new

system – using fixed catchment areas based on postcodes – led to a review of the council’s new admissions policy by an independent

schools adjudicator. The adjudicator approved the policy, subject to

a review after 12 months, saying it would give more pupils a better chance of going to popular schools. After initial objections, however, the main source of contention since the operation of the new system

has not been the use of lotteries so much as the boundaries of the

catchment areas. In 2009, Ed Balls, then Children’s Secretary,

entered the debate, arguing that lotteries can be ‘arbitrary’ and

‘unfair’, and asked the schools adjudicator to carry out a national review of random allocation systems. Reporting in November 2009,

the schools adjudicator, Ian Craig, suggested that lotteries did create

‘uncertainty’ among parents, but concluded that current rules

governing random allocation systems are ‘appropriate’ and do not need to change. The schools adjudicator published research

showing that 29 out of 150 local councils now employ lotteries at one or more schools, if they were oversubscribed. Two councils –

Brighton and Hove, and Hertfordshire – used lotteries in a structured way across a number of schools.

98. Tikka, T. & Suominen, E. (2008, p.44). Education Society 2.0 – Inclusion and Skills for All, Helsinki: Kalevi Sorsa Foundation.

99. Pring, R. et al. (2009) Education for All: The future of education and training for 14-19 year olds: Final report of the Nuffield 14-19 Review, London: Routledge.

100. Blanden et al. (2006) Accounting for Intergenerational Income Persistence: Non-cognitive skills, Ability and Education, University of Surrey: Discussion Paper in Economics.

102


Endnotes 101. Hodkinson, P. et al. (1996). Triumphs and Tears:Young People, Markets and the Transition from School to Work. London: David Fulton.

102. Hinett, K. (2002, p. 182) ‘Assessing Failure or Failing to Assess?’ in

Wareham T and Peelo, M(eds) Failing Students in Higher Education.

SRHE and Open University Press.

103. In particular, these skills are primary drivers of economic outcomes (such as earnings) and social outcomes (such as risky behaviours). See, for example, the recent PMSU report on adolescence.

104. Pring, R. et al. (2009) Education for All: The future of education and training for 14-19 year olds: Final report of the Nuffield 14-19 Review, London: Routledge.

105. See previous footnote

106. Some higher education institutions are already doing this, for example, Bath University and Bristol University (OFFA, personal communication)

107. NUS (2009) Broke and Broken: a critique of the higher education funding system

108. Even from an economic perspective, one could also question whether employers will necessarily make optimum decisions from the

perspective of organisational strategy. A variety of evidence suggests

that poor resource utilisation within the firm is an ongoing cause of

the productivity gap between the UK and our major international competitors.

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What’s Fair? Applying the fairness test to education Louise Bamfield and Tim Horton ‘What’s fair? Applying the fairness test to education’ asks what a fair education system would look like and argues for important reforms needed to narrow the gaps in educational attainment and opportunity between different social groups in the UK. The report explores what progress the Labour Government made in tackling educational inequality during its time in office and considers what the implications of the new Coalition Government’s proposed reforms might be. Outlining original research into public attitudes, ‘What’s fair?’ also looks at what the public think is fair in education, and how the arguments for reforms to tackle educational inequalities can be won. This report is published as part of the Fabian Society’s research programme ‘Fighting Poverty and Inequality in an Age of Affluence’, in association with the Webb Memorial Trust.

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What's Fair? Applying the fairness test to education  

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