More and more evidence keeps coming in regarding the way educational opportunity for working-class children is being whittled away.
Plagued by the need to stay well up in the league tables in order to attract pupils, and therefore funding, and therefore to survive, state schools have naturally enough engaged in all kinds of underhand methods to boost their statistics of ‘success’.
Ubiquitous amongst these tricks is the habit of ‘off-rolling’ students who are unlikely to do well in exams.
“One in ten pupils has been removed from the school roll without explanation at some point by the time they are due to sit GCSEs, a report reveals. The practice goes on to some extent in most schools, it claims.
“More than 61,000 pupils, or 10.1 percent, who were due to sit the exams in 2017 had been removed without explanation at some stage in their secondary education. This was up from 9 percent in 2014.
“Nearly all large multi-academy trusts had higher than average rates of unexplained exits, and most also had above-average rates of permanent exclusion, according to the report by the Education Policy Institute …
“Schools have been accused of ‘off-rolling’, which can result in difficult or low-achieving pupils whose GCSEs would bring results down being removed unofficially.
“The institute looked at local authorities and multi-academy trusts and said that in both cases there were ‘multiple school groups with very high rates of unexplained pupil exits’.
“Vulnerable pupils were more likely to leave without explanation; it happened to 30 percent of children in care, 27 percent of those with mental health needs, 16 percent of poorer pupils and 14 percent of those from black backgrounds.” (One in ten pupils off-rolled before GCSEs by Nicola Woolcock, The Times, 11 October 2019)
At the same time, Nicola Woolcock reveals in another article that “more than one in four secondary-aged children are receiving extra help, up from less than one in five in 2005. Tutors charge about £25 an hour, but rates are said to be as high as £40 in some areas.” (80,000 state teachers give private tuition, The Times, 26 September 2019)
While the 25 percent of families who can afford it are by hiring private tutors to make up for the shortcomings of state education caused by austerity, children from the 75 percent of families who are poorer are left to sink or swim.
Meanwhile, we are told that primary school children are being taught in some cases by a single teacher in classes of as high as 67, sitting like students in a lecture theatre because cash-strapped primary schools are packing pupils into giant classes to boost their budgets.
A school receives between £3,500 and £5,000 a year for each child. As a result, over 559,000 primary pupils are being taught in “super-size classes” of more than 30. In parts of northwest England – including Oldham, Bury, Trafford and Tameside – a quarter of primary children are being taught in such big classes, as per-pupil funding encourages heads to fill their classrooms.
This is actually illegal for children under the age of seven, but it is happening more and more frequently all the same, and with school budgets cut to the bone and staff numbers falling drastically, we can only expect to see more of such practices.
Children from difficult, very poor or chaotic homes (and very often these things go together) are the ones who suffer most. The rising number of children with one or more emotional or developmental issues (anxiety, anger, ADHD, autism, etc), or whose home life is simply unsupportive of education (owing to poverty, hunger, homelessness, stress, addiction, etc) are increasingly falling through the cracks – either medicalised into quiescence or given up on as too difficult to teach when resources are lacking to give them the individual attention they need to keep them in the classroom and to help them keep up with their peers.
For the crime of being born poor, our most vulnerable children are being denied the education that is supposed to be their right. It is not difficult to understand how many such children end up in prison before they are 20.