Martin Fleetwood
Achievement Partner at Teach First

11 ways to tackle national disparities in schools

The news has highlighted a potential reform of the school admissions system. We comment and offer 11 long-term proposals to address ongoing inequalities.

The school admissions issue

A recent article in the Guardian piqued my interest, which condenses The Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) Blueprint for a more equitable education system to one out of six possible strategies, which would support the formation of a new Structure and Systems.

One suggestion has received a lot of attention in the press: that children eligible for Pupil Premium (PP) should be prioritised in school admission codes.

The current admissions system has created significant tensions between parents’ choice and the systems ability to plan strategically for school places. The proposed reform could have implications on these tensions. Some headteachers in popular and over-subscribed schools could find merit in PP pupils being given a passport to their schools. However, school leaders facing significant deprivation, or those in coastal areas or isolated rural communities could argue that the admissions proposal would amplify the negative impacts they face daily.

Currently the admissions system favours families who can afford to move to more desirable areas, resulting in a virtuous circle of attractive schools being centred in affluent areas. Consequently, PP and other disadvantaged pupils are left to attend schools perceived as increasingly less desirable. Leaders can also face falling rolls which directly undermines their financial ability to implement and staff effective curricular models.

Many leaders would openly agree that the current Pupil Premium arrangements give schools additional funding; this is a lifeline to the viability of schools that face more challenges in supporting the needs of their PP and SEND pupils, as well as the wider community. However, schools serving our disadvantaged communities often struggle to recruit and retain good teachers or subject specialists, which adds to an ever-growing vicious circle that makes improvement difficult.

My take as a former senior leader

As a former Executive Principal and current Teach First Leading Together Achievement Partner, I have seen how important it is to make sure that the needs of all pupils are met.

Fair access to school places for students and their families continues to be challenging in some cases due to the confusing roles of local and central government.  Schools working hard to turn around historic negative perceptions can haemorrhage pupils, due to a drift to ‘popular schools’ that gain continued capital support to increase their published admission numbers (PANs).

Early years deficits and social/emotional disadvantages have not only grown, but have been exasperated by the pandemic. This has also impacted the social/emotional support given to families through Extended Service teams in schools, which were so critical to the success of schools in my and many other leaders’ communities.

Schools facing challenging circumstances will need:

  • more funding
  • support from other schools across the education system
  • locally-based support teams
  • an active partnership with businesses at a national and local level.

Such support, along with a drive for excellence, will transform the lives of individual young people and finally erode any community-based intergenerational disadvantage.

Teach First and the manifesto

The current inequalities in education are worsening and to tackle this a robust conversation is needed to explore real long-term strategies that address financial resourcing, curricula development and the continued professional development of teachers and school leaders.

Teach First’s contribution to this critical discussion is a widening of this core agreement by encompassing the identification of 11 long-term proposals, supported by evidence and case studies of serving leaders and their schools and Trusts.

These proposals are outlined in detail in our manifesto:

  1. Increased Pupil Premium funding for schools from 2022 through to 2026.
  2. Boost the COVID-19 education recovery package.
  3. Uplift funding for children and young people’s services.
  4. Pilot an innovative approach to support professional development in disadvantaged secondary schools.
  5. Create ‘Curriculum Forums’ to find a common ground on content.
  6. Schools to support to implement fair and unbiased recruitment practices.
  7. DfE to actively promote inclusivity through funding a leadership development programme for underrepresented groups.
  8. DFE a primary based framework for effective careers learning in primary schools which provides additional funding for training teachers in disadvantaged areas.
  9. DfE to fund the training of a career’s leader in every school.
  10. Large employers to develop and offer blended work experience opportunities and outreach programmes which promote applications from disadvantaged schools.
  11. DfE to continue to invest in the provision of laptops, tablets, and internet routers for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

All our voices are critical in forming a campaign to establish a set of long-term strategies that addresses the growing inequity faced by many of our communities and ensures that every child and young person has a fighting chance. Your experience and commitment will be essential in making sure that our voices are not only heard but lead to action in the drive for change. 

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