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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 1 Primary teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: An excellent primary school based ...

AER Teachers: Cover Supervisor - Central London - September

£70 - £80 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: This outstanding school s...

AER Teachers: SEN Teaching Assistant - London - September

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: This central London prima...

AER Teachers: Graduate Primary Teaching Assistant

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: A good primary school in ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen