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Good piece. Hard to disagree with the importance of skills to economic performance. The evidence is there in study after study. But difficult to see how the adult skills system (and employers) can correct failures of the education system. And the research shows that education matters more to earnings potential than it used to.
(See the link to article on the problems of educational performance in the US – same problem. Good interactive graphs on the shrinking American middle class. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/business/economy/closing-education-gap-will-lift-economy-study-finds.html?partner=socialflow&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0)
The ongoing and seemingly intractable problem of the UK skills gap begs the question whether the policy and funding is properly targeted and integrated. We continue to see early years and education and skills in separate silos and continue to invest in reactive measures – skilling those without qualifications – often at the expense of early years intervention, where there are funding shortfalls. Can we hope to address the structural problems at the heart of education and skills without a more localised and more fully integrated system?
On the subject of London’s improved educational performance – the so called ‘London effect’ – the research report, Lessons from London schools for attainment and social mobility, prepared by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Institute of Education, looked at the systemic factors which might explain the better performance and faster improvement in attainment of disadvantaged pupils in inner London than in other regions between 2002 and 2012.
The research found that performance at GCSE is largely to do with improvements in primary school. But the extent to which lessons can be transferred from London to other cities are limited by the fact that London is unique in terms of its demography and economy and which the IFS/IOE report, surprisingly, did not elaborated on.
Many years ago London schools/LEAs started to address early years / school readiness, recognizing that many children arriving in school did not have necessary levels of functional English (in the main although not exclusively from multi-cultural backgrounds where English is not spoken in the home). Assessments and early interventions in reception/infants have had an impact in identifying and addressing this problem. Getting pupils up to speed in English is essential to learning all subjects.
Staffing in primary schools has also improved. London is able to attract and retain high calibre graduates from IOE and other institutions. Better pay in primary schools and improved image has led to increased competition for teaching jobs (primary had previously been ‘dumbed down’ in relation to secondary education).
But what the IFS/IOE report doesn’t reference is demographics and housing markets. London’s population is growing at a faster rate than other cities in UK and since the late 90’s London’s population has experienced a baby boom, which has meant that primary schools have quickly gone from under to over capacity. Catchment areas have shrunk and so has choice. Schools have become more selective while parental choice has restricted, in many cases having to send their children to a school which they may have previously avoided.
House prices over the last 10-15 years have further restricted parental choice. Unable to afford to live in the move desirable middle class enclaves with the more desirable schools, and because of house prices, unable to afford private education, more middle-class parents in London are sending their children to the local previously ‘failing’ schools. Classrooms are therefore more evenly populated with children whose parents have achieved higher level qualifications, who value education – and importantly – are more likely get involved in schools via governing bodies, parent-teacher associations etc. Even the most disadvantaged schools have started to attract a more diverse socio-economic intake. This in my experience as a community governor in a Finsbury Park primary school is the single biggest factor in the improvement of London schools, and the one thing most difficult to replicate in other cities, especially in the North. Disadvantage in inner London is situated cheek by jowl with more affluent areas. In the North we have huge swathes of post-industrial hinterland populated with poor people who are physically separated from middle class ghettos. Thus we have high achieving schools in prosperous areas and low achieving schools in low income areas.
The lessons from London is that schools succeed with a greater level of intervention in the earliest years of education and with a more even distribution of children from families of different socio-economic backgrounds. So maybe we need a system for our failing cities that can invest more in proactive measures, better integrate education and skills, and select children on ability, or on some other basis other than household income or where they live. Grammar Schools anybody?