Quality of education still determined by wealth, says report

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The Independent Online

The gap between rich and poor is widening under Labour with the quality of a child's schooling still largely determined by their parents' wealth, a report from the Conservatives warns today.

Children in the most deprived parts of the country are now 20 times more likely to go to a school on the Government's hit list for poor results than those from the wealthiest areas.

More than half the secondary schools in the poorest parts of England fail to get 30 per cent of children to pass five good GCSEs, automatically putting them on the Government's controversial hit list of 638 struggling schools. In richest areas, only three per cent of schools are on the hit list.

Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary, who obtained the figures through parliamentary questions, said: "Children from less well-off backgrounds do not get the same opportunities as others. Education should be the engine of social mobility. But... children eligible for free school meals are nearly 200 times more likely to leave school without a single C at GCSE than they are to get three As at A-level.

"We want to allow good new schools to set up in poor areas – based on the successful Swedish model – so that every parent gets the opportunity for their child that is currently only open to the rich."

The statistics are contained in a report on educational inequality, A Failed Generation, published today, which outlines the stark divide in achievement between the most well-off children and the rest. It claims that inequality is growing under Labour with the attainment gap at GCSE between the poorest and wealthiest areas widening by 15 percentage points – from 28 points to 43 – in the past year.

It concludes that children in the most deprived areas are 20 times more likely to go to a failing school than those in the least deprived areas.

Twelve local authorities had fewer than a quarter of their pupils even attempt English, maths, science and a modern language at GCSE – including Hartlepool, Kingston upon Hull, and Barking and Dagenham. Since 1997, 300,003 pupils have not been entered for a single GCSE.

Almost half of persistent primary school truants are eligible for free school meals, and last year only 0.2 per cent of children on free school meals achieved three A grades at A-level, compared to 12 per cent of all children.

Jim Knight, the Schools minister, said: "The gap between rich and poor is closing and it is misleading to suggest otherwise. Low-performing schools... are often located in the most deprived areas because of the problems that deprivation brings. But many schools in [these] areas do very well, especially considering the extra challenges they face."

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