Leading Article: Segregation is the root of the problem

The latest report from the Sutton Trust shows just how class-bound England still is. Being born to a parent with a university degree is more likely to guarantee a child top grades at school in England than in the USA, Australia and Germany. Why should this be? The researchers think that the stark inequality they uncovered could be due to highly educated parents ensuring their children have places at top-performing secondary schools – the "sharp elbow" syndrome. Such schools often have better resources and teaching. They are usually in expensive neighbourhoods, which means that parents from poorer areas may live too far away for their child to be awarded a place.

There are, however, signs that the gap between rich and poor has been closing for the children educated under the Labour government. Test scores for 11-year-olds show that the gap has narrowed from 37 percentage points to 27 percentage points over the course of two decades.

Nevertheless, there remains a high level of social segregation in English secondaries. The answer – as Professor Alan Smithers says (right) – is to ensure that admissions procedures to secondary schools are equitable. But that will probably not be enough. As a nation we also need to ensure that we consider new approaches to improving the educational attainment of the poorest children. If politicians are not able to deal with the problem, we will continue to condemn disadvantaged young people, and the economy, to an uncertain future.

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