Ministers should trust schools to tackle educational disadvantage, report finds

A major new report by researchers from The University of Manchester is asking why disadvantaged children are still not performing as well as their more affluent peers, despite a decade of Government reforms.

It has found that the challenges facing schools as they try to tackle entrenched inequalities are growing. Meanwhile, ministers remain fixated with short-term gains on a narrow range of measured attainments, while the system is experiencing funding crises, scandals in the academies programme and growing fragmentation.

Using encouraging examples from across the country, the report shows how some practitioners and policymakers are finding ways to reshape the system to meet these challenges locally, even in the most challenging contexts

It finds that rather than competing, there are places where schools are working together to benefit all children and families. In these contexts, local authorities are redefining their support roles, and charities are finding ways to bring new expertise and resources to schools. The difficulties of working in these ways must not be underestimated, but more equitable arrangements are possible.

The report calls for the Government to unlock the system’s potential by developing ‘intelligent’ policy which learns from these developments. It recommends that the current reform programme should be paused to allow for existing local developments to become better embedded, and to give policymakers time to learn deeply from what is happening in the system. Research should be commissioned to support and learn from these developments, and to directly inform future policies.

Commenting on the implications, Dr Kirstin Kerr states: “The government will not find ‘solutions’ to these challenges from elsewhere. Rather, it should look to the experience, knowledge and wisdom held within the system. It must foster the conditions which encourage policy to be interpreted in ways which promote greater equity, rather than being manipulated for institutional advantage.”

Professor Mel Ainscow CBE
The system must move away from its currently contradictory mix of centralised ‘control and command’ and schools acting as autonomous institutions, to become more genuinely collaborative. It is time to stop and think.
Professor Mel Ainscow CBE

The report was launched at an ESRC Festival of Social Science Event, where local schools, local authorities and charities were invited to debate the research with the academics.

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