Minister admits poor children face 'soft bigotry of low expectations' in schools

Regional differences in pupils' educational chances are 'a scandal' and 'deeply unfair'

Sarah Cassidy
Sunday 22 March 2015 01:00
Estimates suggest that the number of children growing up in poor families will rise from 2.6m to 3.5m in 2020 (Getty)
Estimates suggest that the number of children growing up in poor families will rise from 2.6m to 3.5m in 2020 (Getty)

Children from poor backgrounds are still being written off as low achievers by their teachers because of the “soft bigotry of low expectations”, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan warned yesterday.

More needed to be done to ensure that no child was held back by their circumstances, Ms Morgan told the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in London.

Low educational performance in some coastal areas and small towns in England was “a scandal”, she added, citing the bigotry phrase first coined by the former US President George W Bush.

Almost three quarters of teenagers in Trafford, in Greater Manchester, achieved five good GCSE passes including English and maths, but “just a 30-minute drive away” in Knowsley “the number is less than half of that at 35 per cent”, she said.

Nicky Morgan said the Government would not give up control of the curriculum

Ms Morgan told the conference: “If you’re a child born in Knowsley you are less than half as likely to get the standard of education you need to succeed in life as a child in Trafford, and I think that is deeply unfair.”

Speaking after her address to the conference, Ms Morgan said she still met teachers, head teachers and members of the public who did not expect poorer youngsters to achieve highly. She said: “I still come across people who are ready to write off a child’s chances even before the end of primary school. [They say] children in this area don’t go to university, children in this area are only ever going to be in ‘requires improvement’ schools. I think that’s just deeply unfair. I think that education is a matter of social justice. It’s life-transforming.

“I think it can be a variety of people. The comments sometimes have come from leaders and teachers in particular schools but sometimes it is just a collective acceptance that we are not going to have high aspirations for all pupils.”

Ms Morgan said her next challenge, if the Conservatives won the general election, would be to ensure that excellence was spread across all parts of the country.

Answering questions about the “crisis” in school funding, Ms Morgan argued that the Conservatives’ “flat cash” per pupil pledge would spend £590m more on school budgets over the next Parliament than Labour, which has promised to at least match the current budget in real terms, adjusting for inflation.

But she rejected demands from head teachers for ministers to give up their control of the curriculum, arguing that only democratically elected representatives should decide what children should be taught in schools. Head teachers had called for an independent commission of teachers, parents, employers and politicians which would review the curriculum every five years.

Earlier the ASCL’s general secretary, Brian Lightman, told the conference that the Government’s continuous reforms had made it impossible to measure at the moment how well England’s schools were performing, or for parents and employers to understand what qualifications were worth, and that this might persist for some time.

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