This week has been a busy one in English education with a range of reports focused around the topic of social mobility, about which I have a keen interest.
These reports included one by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, one by the Institute for Public Policy Research and one by Ofsted (the schools inspectorate). Each of them raised issues around how to tackle inequality of educational provision and outcomes and are worth a quick skim through the recommendations at least.
Of equal interest to me was the annual release of Government data about the destinations of students in the year after they leave their state-funded school or college (this excludes private schools, of which there are many in England). Teaching unions have contested the validity of this data and I agree that there are questions about its currency and accuracy, which are openly acknowledged by the Department for Education statisticians who produced them. I analysed the data for South West London last year when they were first released and then blogged about it.
So how have things changed in a year?
For one thing they’ve added a new grouping of universities that post16 students went on to – this now includes the top third of UK universities. I see this as an improvement on mainly focusing on the Russell Group – the latter includes within it Oxford and Cambridge – these are all highly selective, research-intensive universities which make up just one part of the varied UK higher education landscape.
The other change is that the Government has decided to create its own mini-league tables of top 10 local authorities and schools that have high proportions of their students going on to university (despite the acknowledged data issues!). It has also singled out local authorities for doing poorly on destinations outcomes: for example, it points out that only 56% of students in Norfolk, a rural part of England, had ended up in any form of sustained education or employment/training in 2010/11 after completing post16 school or college. I’m not sure how helpful this ‘carrot and stick’ centralised approach is.
Two of the 3 reports mentioned at the start of this post point to growing educational disparities in rural areas such as Norfolk, particularly when compared to large conurbations such as London, Manchester and Birmingham. The Chief Inspector of Schools has recommend parachuting in a national brigade of highly able teachers to poorly performing schools in out-of-the-way places, which is commented on in this blog post by Professor John Howson.
My conclusion from all of this?
Let’s be sensitive to individual schools, colleges and local authorities that are struggling with localised social mobility issues for a range of geographic and economic reasons. But greater transparency is a good thing in any operation/project as it allows stakeholders to question current policies and processes in an evidence-based way. We just need to ensure that everyone can analyse the data – and that will only happen though good education for all.