The crisis in secondary schools: where is it leading?

All kinds of schools in England are facing damaging budget cuts. Large meetings are being held all over the country where parents and teachers together are showing their opposition to Government cuts. Every concerned teacher or parent should join the Fair Funding for All Schools campaign, the front line in the growing campaign to save public education.

However it is important to understand the compound crisis affecting secondary schools. These meetings provide an important opportunity for teachers to tell parents what is happening. 

Academies and free schools

These were first set up (ostensibly) to rescue some struggling inner-city schools, but they have become a major asset-stripping strategy. Academy trusts are being given 125 year leases on buildings and land.

The government are turning a blind eye to the mismanagement of academy funds. There are constant scandals about corruption, with contracts (£500,000 in one chain alone) being awarded to firms belonging to relatives of headteachers or CEOs. Some of these notorious scandals are very close to Government.

The highest academy CEO is now receiving £420,000 a year, and many others are being paid more than the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile teachers’ pay increases have been held down to 1%.

Hidden selection

Academies and also many church schools now organise their own admissions. There are all kinds of hidden forms of selection of new pupils. Pupils with the best chance of getting high GCSE results are receiving preferential treatment, and children with special needs are being pushed away to other schools.

The comprehensive school system is being destroyed.

… and now grammar schools

In areas where children are divided up at age 11, children are divided up socially.

New research has shown that only 1 in 20 children from the poorest fifth of the population get into grammars, and only 1 in 7 of the next fifth – the so-called “just about managing” families that Theresa May claims she is helping.

You have to be in the top fifth to stand an evens chance of getting into grammar school.

Even so, the Government could come a cropper with this ill-conceived policy. Do Daily Mail readers understand it means consigning many of their children into second-class schools?

Unfair penalties for schools in deindustrialised areas

Secondary schools are now judged according to Progress 8, a measure of progress from age 11 to 16. It is abundantly clear that this is penalising schools in the poorest areas,

It is not surprising that young people growing up in poverty, and especially in areas with limited employment prospects, tend to fall behind more affluent students.

Whatever Progress 8 measures, it certainly isn’t the effectiveness of schools.

Obviously every teacher wants working-class students to obtain the best possible qualifications, but it is no good blaming them for the extreme levels of inequality in our society.

Just before he retired, Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw blamed teachers in the North of England and the Midlands for getting poorer results than London. “If you have an educated workforce in the North, that will feed into the wider economy.” Really? When did a few percent higher GCSEs reopen a steel works?

The Curriculum

The changes which Michael Gove made are still in place. Speaking and Listening is no longer part of English GCSE, and students have to complete a piece of writing against the clock rather than present their best work. Similar changes are taking place in many other subjects.

The curriculum has been weighted towards a narrow band of academic subjects (the EBacc subjects), with little opportunity to do practical or creative work. Young people are denied the opportunity to study the world they live in, or new media and technologies. No wonder so many have lost interest.

We could soon face a situation where schools will try to charge parents a fee for anything beyond a basic pen-and-paper curriculum.

School leavers understand the meagre opportunities for real apprenticeships and high-quality training. Young people in disadvantaged areas in particular face a future of precarious employment contracts on low pay, alternating with spells of unemployment.

The large meetings gathering to oppose budget cuts provide teachers with a great opportunity to explain the crisis in all its breadth, and build a solid resistance.

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