At the chalkface: One in five

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:
Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher

If pupils are too poor or “challenging” they’re somehow chucked out. It’s all the go. You don’t want to screw up those league tables. So “poorer” children must be excluded...

“Poorer pupils far more likely to be in failing schools, finds research” – so goes the limp and dismal headline. Well, knock me down with feathers. This could pertain to anytime in English history. I don’t know which is more depressing, the fact or the findings.

And it does beg a few questions. “Poorer” than what? What is a “failing” school? One with “failing” pupils? What’s a “failing” pupil? A “poorer” one? Do “poorer” pupils cause schools to “fail”? Murky stuff.

In England “poorer” pupils are nine times as likely to attend an “inadequate” school as the wealthiest.

Other dreary headlines confirm these things: “New exams favour the rich.” Don’t they all? “Disadvantaged pupils doing watered down curriculum.” It was ever thus. We had Secondary Moderns in my day. “Schools funding will hurt poorer pupils.” I thought it was meant to do rather the reverse. “State schools more socially exclusive than ever.” Enough already!

The same numbingly obvious topic prevails. The poor get clobbered every which way and it’s not getting better. Must we rehearse all this again? Poorer children are hungrier, crazier, gloomier, sicker, more illiterate, more innumerate and more stressed. They don’t go to universities, they go to food kitchens and fail in “failing” schools.

A lot don’t seem to even go to schools anymore. Certainly not successful ones. It’s why they’re successful. If pupils are too poor or “challenging” they’re somehow chucked out. It’s all the go. You don’t want to screw up those league tables. So “poorer” children must be excluded.

A Guardian investigation is much exercised by these “deeply concerning” rates of exclusion. It finds that “dozens of secondary schools exclude at least 20 per cent of pupils”. “Dozens” and “at least” beg some questions. But 20 per cent! One in five! And rising!

They just disappear, mainly from academies and free schools. The fancy language for this is a “fixed-period exclusion”, which doesn’t seem all that fixed. The word we are looking for is “permanent”. We deprive children of an education and then just abandon them.

We are creating an underclass with nothing to lose, who will probably have a career of gangs, drugs, deep maladjustment and jail. They will swap school for jail. They go from ill-nourished pupils to fully fledged criminals.

Zilch is being done about this. Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, chirps up: “No child should be held back from reaching their potential because of their background.”

Well, knock me down with another feather. There’s no fooling her. So it goes.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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