Disadvantaged students: DfE to work with private schools

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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A joint understanding has been published setting out how the Department for Education (DfE) and the Independent Schools Council (ISC) are to work together to help raise outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

It comes as the government published its response to the Schools That Work for Everyone consultation.

The DfE has set-up a “dedicated unit” to work with universities and independent schools to “develop and strengthen partnerships with state schools to help raise attainment and aspiration for all pupils”.

ISC schools spent around £385 million in 2017 on means-tested bursaries and scholarships for disadvantaged children. The joint understanding states: “ISC schools will be encouraged to target bursary support at those on the lowest incomes as well as looked after children, to increase opportunities for these children and to support social mobility.”

The understanding adds: “The DfE will encourage the state sector to participate in partnership activities, developing a range of partnership options, helping to overcome barriers. This will include the DfE providing support in matching independent and state sector schools based on need and expertise so that they can develop partnership working.”

Elsewhere, the consultation has been dominated by the government’s proposals to lift the ban on creating new grammar schools – a policy championed by prime minister Theresa May. However, this has now been dropped after a lack of Parliamentary support.

Instead, the government’s consultation response sets out plans to launch a Selective Schools Expansion Fund, which will make an initial £50 million available for 2018/19 for existing selective schools to expand their premises to create more school places.

The government points to figures showing that disadvantaged children attain better results in selective schools. However, research has also shown that children who fail the 11-plus have worse outcomes than similar pupils in non-selective areas (SecEd, 2017).

The government has said that grammar schools looking to expand will have to “submit a fair access and partnership plan setting out what action they will take to increase admissions of disadvantaged pupils”.

Responding to the announcement, Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “As the government supports the expansion of existing grammar schools, it is right to insist that they do more to improve access and to increase the numbers of disadvantaged pupils. Our research has shown how socially selective grammars are: you are 10 times more likely to go to one if you went to a prep school than if you are on free school meals.

“Existing grammars should be expected to do more to support social mobility. We welcome the commitment by the grammar school heads to prioritise Pupil Premium pupils and improve outreach. However, all grammars should ensure that disadvantaged pupils who reach the minimum test score are admitted by right – as happens at some Birmingham grammars.”

Natalie Perera, executive director of the Education Policy Institute, added: “Creating more grammar school places is unlikely to improve social mobility and poses a particular threat to outcomes for disadvantaged children. Our research finds that, as the number of grammar places increases, a penalty emerges for all pupils who live nearby but don’t get in and this penalty is larger for disadvantaged pupils than non-disadvantaged pupils. Indeed, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is wider in wholly selective areas than in non-selective areas.

“International evidence indicates that many of the best education systems achieve both excellence and equity through policies that avoid selection and segregation and instead focus on supporting and retaining high-quality teachers.”

Elsewhere, the government said it would maintain the 50 per cent cap on faith admissions for free schools after initially mooting plans to lift this. However, it is now planning to develop a scheme to help create new voluntary-aided schools for faith and other providers to meet local demand. It stated: “The department will work with local authorities to create these schools where they are needed.”

  • Joint understanding between DfE and Independent Schools Council (ISC), Department for Education, May 2018: http://bit.ly/2Ih5YHz
  • Schools that work for everyone: Consultation outcome, Department for Education, May 2018: http://bit.ly/2IgJQRO
  • Just missing out on grammar school hits university hopes, study suggests, SecEd, May 2017: http://bit.ly/2KhoMHx


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