Inequality is a part of the system

2nd February 2013

This blog has been written as a response to the Guardian debate: “Closing the inequality gap in education

It seems like inequality is built into the education system.

I believe all right-minded people in education, including Michael Gove, are motivated by a desire to close the achievement gap, but we are all hamstrung by an education system that disadvantages children who do not benefit from a rich learning environment at home.

Apparently (according to the work of Prof. Alan Dyson), the most significant single factor in the likelihood of a child succeeding at school is the level of education of his/her mother.

Having worked for many years in schools with disadvantaged children my experience is those who do well are the ones that have parents who speak to them. This is not news, we’ve known this for a very long time.

But what lessons have we learnt?

For me, the system asks some children to run the race before they are ready to run it. The great injustice we have in education is that children are required to all attain at the same level at the same age. Which is fine if, like my own children, you come to school already reading. It is a ghastly joke if, like many of the children I see coming into Reception, you are a child in nappies, barely able to speak and never having held a book in your life.

Schools do the very best they can to catch these children up. But in their eagerness to do the right thing they often end up putting many of these children off learning by introducing them to concepts and functions before they develop the cognitive tools they need to understand them. Often these children are labelled as ‘low ability’, this is a terrible slur. Opportunity and access to resources (including time invested by their parents) is the issue, not ability.

The answer?

Those in power won’t like it, it won’t go down well in middle England.

What needs to happen is a complete redesigning of the education system based on the notion that all children will succeed in education if the time is taken at the beginning to prepare them with the necessary experiences and cognitive tools they need.

This would mean children would move through school not in September as they grow older, but as and when they are ready. It would mean a change in funding schools and pre-schools differently, to invest more money in the early years. And it would mean educating the public to rethink the way schools work, moving from competition (where only an elite of ‘able’ children succeed) to universality (where all children succeed irrespective of background). This, let me make clear, is not about lowering standards. I believe wholeheartedly in high standards. It is about creating equal opportunity, where all children can succeed because they are allowed the time and support to progress when they are ready.

Doesn’t this mean some children will leave school later than others?

Yes, it does. I said it wouldn’t be popular.


Keep up-to-date with the latest news and projects.

Mailing List