Rosamund McNeil, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union has commented on the Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) annual report, which finds the education disadvantage gap has stopped closing and poses a major setback for social mobility.
“These trends show that the Government cannot claim success for their education 'reforms'. The new cabinet must think again on education. Cutting school funding dramatically while at the same time driving more families deeper into poverty comes at a high cost for poor and working-class students. The Government expects heads and teachers to ‘close the gap’ for disadvantaged pupils whilst ignoring United Nations evidence of how its own policies are widening the poverty gap. We shouldn't be surprised by these findings, but they should urgently trigger a change in approach.
“The Government must commit to proactively reducing child poverty and commit to ending it. They must also provide what schools need to make education accessible – fair pay rises to retain motivated teachers, reversal of the funding cuts, and a curriculum broad and flexible enough to motivate all learners and respond to the reality of their lives. Schools can be the place where students gain a sense of optimism and agency about their futures, but we're not giving schools what they need to make this difference. That's simply not fair on anyone.
“The Government could do so much more to support teachers on this issue but a relentless focus on exam results and endless data is the problem and not the solution. Supporting emotional well-being and students' sense of belonging in their school has been shown to improve students' learning, so pressuring schools to focus on exam preparation and tests is counter-productive for both academic learning and social development. We need to focus on activities like reading for pleasure, more sport and outdoor learning and more art and drama – all are shown to engage students, close the motivation gap and inspire children's interest and commitment to education.”