Holding poorer children back holds our country back

6th October, 2014 7:47 pm

Nearly six out of ten disadvantaged children do not achieve a basic set of qualifications according to today’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s report. Just think about what that statistic means. Most poorer children are leaving English schools with their options limited for what they can do next and that their talents are not being unlocked by our education system. It means that the majority of poorer children will struggle to find their full potential in Britain’s economy, holding them and our country back.

It is truly shameful that in this country in the 21st century, a child’s starting point in life remains a strong determinant of where they end up. Yet sadly under this Government, the trend is in the wrong direction. Child poverty is forecast to rise, not fall. Children’s centres that have helped children and families break the cycle of disadvantage are being closed or dismantled. After years of narrowing, the gap in attainment at GCSE between the poorest children and their wealthier peers is now widening. These developments will have a far-reaching and detrimental impact on the lives of thousands of children; limiting opportunities and holding our young people back from fulfilling their potential.


The Government’s record on social mobility is lamentable and much more needs to be done to break down the link between a child’s background and attainment in education, but there is hope. The Commission is clear on the key role that schools have in achieving greater social justice in our society. The report lists examples of schools up and down the country that are already doing just that.  They all share certain unmistakeable qualities. At the heart of their approach to raising standards, is an incessant focus on ensuring there is high quality teaching across their school, alongside an inclusive culture based on high expectations for all pupils.

The evidence speaks for itself – placing high quality teaching at the centre of a school’s approach is the single most important way that a school can influence social mobility.

But this Government has chosen to ignore the evidence and instead has undermined the value of teaching in our schools. By allowing unqualified teachers to be employed by schools, they have removed the minimum standards for entry to teaching and created a damaging free for all in the profession, where teachers no longer need to receive knowledge and understanding of how to teach or be trained in how to manage and control a class; skills we know are crucial to teaching. There is nothing that risks high standards for all children more than this policy, and the longer it is allowed to continue, the more damage will be done to children’s schooling.

Whilst the Tories helped by the Lib Dems chose to downgrade and demoralise the teaching profession, Labour understands that the surest route to social justice will come from our teachers. First, we are committed to reversing the Government’s decision to allow unqualified teachers into classrooms. There has been a 16 per cent increase in the number of unqualified teachers in schools in the last year. This would just be the starting point. Labour would put teaching in line with other high status professions, like law and medicine. As in other leading professions, teachers would be expected to train and continue to build their skills on an ongoing basis, updating their subject knowledge and learning new techniques in pedagogy and behaviour management. We’ll work with the profession to create new career pathways for teachers, with routes for specialism in subject knowledge and teaching skills that keep the best teachers in the classrooms. We are committed, not just to ensuring that disadvantaged students have their fair share of the best teachers’ time, but to ensuring that teaching is of a high enough quality across the board that schools don’t have to make the choice between which children get the best teachers. In a One Nation schools system, all children will have access to excellent teaching.

The Commission has given a blueprint for a school’s role in improving social mobility. It is a challenge, but placing high quality teaching at the forefront of improved schooling is an achievable goal. What the report does not argue, is that an obsessive focus on school structures – the unrelenting motivation of the current Government over the last four years – will raise standards. There is not one mention in the report that changing the name of a school will improve the outcomes of its poorer pupils. Schools that are achieving fantastic results for all pupils have not achieved this through a single “magic formula” of becoming an academy, or because they opened as a Free School. Yet the Government continues to act as though changes to school structures are the sole answer to the problems in our education system. The truth is that in their obsession with school types, they have lost sight of the most important consideration for driving standards forwards for poor children: the quality of teaching in classrooms of all schools. It will be Labour that puts that right and delivers an education system that truly works for all.

Kevin Brennan is Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister

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  • gunnerbear

    “The evidence speaks for itself – placing high quality teaching at the centre of a school’s approach is the single most important way that a school can influence social mobility.” That means binning teachers who can’t do the job. Has the author the stones to call for that instead of the garbage about ‘pathways’?

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Firing people who, say, refuse to teach only part of a group of kids, as you’ve called for, rather than being a good teacher? Right.

      • gunnerbear

        Where have I said that? I’ve said high quality teaching is the key but high quality teaching means high quality teachers and ‘extracting the grit’ from the ‘precision gearbox’ so that children find themselves in the right setting for their talents – thus teachers can get on and teach children who want to learn the subject being taught.

        • Leon Wolfeson

          Yes, firing constantly. You’re agreeing with me.
          And teaching the fraction of kids who pass your arbitrary criteria.

          • gunnerbear

            Where have I said that? I’ve said different settings and environments and curriculums for children with different skills and issues is a good thing as it means that they get something out of education as well as the more academic types.

          • Leon Wolfeson

            Yes, yes, you’ve said you’d exclude the kids you didn’t rule as being “decent” based on their parents (you only used a negative example, but of course there are positive ones there for you to use like “income) and your arbitrary criteria.

            The reality is that data shows that mixed ability classes are best. The brightest help the slower kids, and learn in turn from it.

            The entire academic/vocational divide is at a *much* higher age – 16+

  • gunnerbear

    “This would just be the starting point. Labour would put teaching in line with other high status professions, like law and medicine.” And how does the author intend to do that? Selection for places on Law courses and in Medical Schools is intense….really harsh competition………not quite the same for teachers is it when anyone who can’t get a job after wasting their time doing an arts degree winds up teaching because ‘it’s the fall back’. Is the author saying that he wants it to be as difficult to be a teacher as a medic?

  • gunnerbear

    “clear on the key role that schools have in achieving greater social justice in our society.” Call me radical but shouldn’t a prospective schools minister only care about making sure that every child leaving school can read, write and cope with basic maths as a minimum. Surely the author should be demanding of teachers, “Why isn’t that the case…..why are some teachers failing to ensure that every child they teach can read, write and add up….why are they even f**kin’ teachers if they can’t even achieve that…..”

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Why should he have your low aspirations? Indeed, your cap on aspiration.

      You are demanding of teachers, when you should be looking at the government’s educational policy. You are lashing out at anyone but the responsible, again.

      • gunnerbear

        Ehh…I’ve talked about ensuring a basic minimum for all children. Once the child has mastered the basics, I don’t really care what schools teach because that is what variety in the subjects is for.

        • Leon Wolfeson

          Exactly. So there wouldn’t BE much in your system. Really, I’m not that kind of a fool.

          • gunnerbear

            Why not there not be much? All I’ve said is that nothing more is important than being able to read, write and add up. The very foundations of an education in fact – without those skills the child will get very little – if anything – out of education.

          • Leon Wolfeson

            Poor education for poor kids.

            And kids need far more than that if they are to learn. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is where even the most basic teaching in how to teach begins.

            The lowest level? Kids need to be properly fed. Oops for your plans!

  • gunnerbear

    Let’s just think about that – the author is complaining that schools / HMG are failing to close the gap…..Well, let’s presume that there are 5 useful teaching hours per day, that the working week is 5 days per week and that the ‘working year’ lasts 39 weeks and that the child is at school for 11 years…….hmmm…that gives 5 x 5 x 39 x 11 = 10725 hours available to master 3 basic subjects. That’s right around 10,725 hours available to teach…..surely if something is going wrong, hard questions ought to be asked of teachers. And surely if they want to be considered to be professionals, they themselves will call for the binning of bad teachers.

    • Leon Wolfeson


      Rather than the people micro-managing teachers every move and lesson. The Government.
      Teachers have no more job security than anyone else, so you’re just for lowering – as the government want to – the employment protections teachers have, which then will of course be extended across all workers before long.

      • gunnerbear

        “Teachers have no more job security than anyone else” When was the last time a teacher was sacked for failing? If they want to be considered a profession, they’ve got to ‘bin off’ the useless teachers.

        • Leon Wolfeson

          Ah, so every job needs to “bin off” large proportions of their workers. Will you also force private employers to have a firing quota every year, or is that just public workers?

          How will you pay for the massive waste in training, incidentally? How will you fund the massive expansion of training needed? (or will you accept rapidly-rising class sizes)

          As ever, you’re simply arguing for removal of basic job protections. If someone is doing a poor job, they can be fired.

          (I, in fact, know several workers at 6th form colleges who had their hours “reduced to 0”, which is easier than firing them and has precisely the same effect. If you don’t get a glowing reference from your college, nobody else is going to take you on in that field!

          Oh, and I know several more people who quit teaching within the first few months because they were crap at it, in practice, and they were quite ready to acknowledge it.)

  • Leon Wolfeson

    Perhaps you should be letting people trained in how to teach kids into the process of deciding how teaching will be done.

    Just an idea.

    (It’s all very well talking about how you’ll treat teachers, but unless you change the process they’re in…I stick to the University sector because we have a lot of freedom to teach according to the needs of the course and the students!)

  • James HC

    Kevin Brennan’s and Tristram Hunt’s unceasing attacks on unqualified teachers are hugely misguided.
    My wife has been an unqualified teacher for twelve years now. I won’t bore you with the reasons why she doesn’t have QTS but they are shared by many. She is a dedicated professional, has been very successful and has inspired numerous pupils to go on to university to study the subjects she teaches.
    Nobody queried her right to be in a classroom. least of all her similarly dedicated qualified colleagues, until the Labour education spokesmen and her own union started their ignorant, nasty and prejudiced assault last year.
    We live in a marginal constituency, which swung to the Tories by a few hundred votes at the last election. I have never voted Tory in my life. I always used to think I would need to have brain surgery before I could do so. But now that I hear Tristram Hunt and Kevin Brennan calling my wife unprofessional and a danger to the nation’s children, I fear that I couldn’t possibly bring myself to vote Labour.
    Kevin Brennan should be condemning prejudice, not fuelling it. His assault on unqualified teachers is shameful.


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