Revealed: Education's great class divide

Teachers warn of 'toxic' effect of a socially segregated system

Schools are becoming increasingly segregated along class lines, teachers have warned – calling spending cuts and reforms that hit poor pupils the Coalition's "dirty little secret".

The poorest children are suffering most from the "toxic" effects of socially divided schools, according to the leader of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. "We have schools for the elite; schools for the middle class and schools for the working class," Mary Bousted said. "Too few schools have mixed intakes where children can learn those intangible life skills of aspiration, effort and persistence from one another."

Dr Bousted, who heads the most moderate of the three teachers' unions, added: "This Coalition Government's attack on poor children is a blight upon our conception of ourselves as a civilised society. They remind me of a former Prime Minister who said there was no such thing as society."

Cuts which had affected the poor, she said, included:

* A 22 per cent cut in grants to Sure Start centres designed to give the under-fives a good start in life. This has led to the closure of 124 centres;

* The withdrawal of education maintenance allowances of up to £30 a week which encouraged poorer students to stay on in post-16 education;

* The removal of the ring-fence on funding for school meals at a time when the number of children entitled to free food at school has risen by 110,000;

* Cuts in local authority funding which have led to one in five councils axing the supply of library books to primary and secondary schools;

* A real-terms cut of 13 per cent in public spending on education by 2014-15.

Dr Bousted said: "If you are a child in a poor family, that is how you will feel now in 2012 – that you are on your own, alone with your parents or carers, with precious little help available, even though it is desperately needed."

She suggested schools were being used as scapegoats for problems in the education system, and ministers and the Ofsted inspectorate were ignoring their responsibilities. "The Secretary of State for Education, and his ministers and his hand-picked [Ofsted Chief Inspector] are pulling a con trick," said Dr Bousted. "They are seeking to wash their hands, like Pontius Pilate, of all the causes of educational failure over which they have more control than anyone else.

"In [Education Secretary] Michael Gove and [Schools minister] Nick Gibb's world, it is the school, and only the school, that holds responsibility for the educational outcomes of the poor. If the poor do not make as much progress as the rich, it is the school and the teachers within it who are to blame.

"This, as you and I know, is a nonsense. It is a lie which conveniently enables ministers to evade responsibility for the effects of their policies. This is the Coalition Government's dirty little secret. This is what they have done, to make the lives of poor children, already disadvantaged and demeaned through their poverty, harder. So it makes sense for them to divert attention away from their destructive policies. It makes sense to unleash a torrent of criticism at schools and school leaders and staff who work, every day, not with political rhetoric but with pupils' lives – lives with which they strive desperately, and with diminishing state support, to improve."

Dr Bousted argued that it was not enough to say, as Mr Gove had, that children were held back by "chains of low expectation". "Schools cannot vanquish these inequalities. They can ameliorate them but, in vastly unequal societies only the brightest will escape the lasting effects of inequality," she said.

"If we are to improve educational outcomes for all, if we are to achieve equal outcomes based on aptitude and ability, we need more than an education agenda, we need a social agenda that fights poverty and inequality."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education accused Dr Bousted of "defending a culture of underachievement", saying: "Schools cannot solve all problems. It is clear though, that a lot of schools have not properly addressed poor performance.

"The public and many teachers will be confused that union leaders dislike the idea of schools being given the freedom to pay good teachers more."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Voices
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Life and Style
Gold timing: the Apple Watch Edition
tech
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor