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FABIAN

SOCIETY

What’s fair

Applying the fairness

test to education

Louise Bamfield and Tim Horton


The Fabian Society

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Fabian Freethinking

First published September 2010

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What’s fair Applying the

fairness test to education

Louise Bamfield and Tim Horton

FABIAN

SOCIETY


About the authors

Louise Bamfield was Senior Research Fellow at the Fabian Society

from 2004-2009. She was the lead researcher on the Fabian

Commission on Life Chances and Child Poverty, which investigated

some of the many ways in which poverty and disadvantage impact on

children’s life chances, and co-authored the Commission’s final

report, Narrowing the Gap (Fabian Society, 2006). She has a

doctorate from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of

education.

Tim Horton is Research Director at the Fabian Society, Britain’s

leading left of centre think tank and political society, a position he

has held since 2006. His areas of research expertise include social

policy, economic and fiscal policy, political parties and democratic

reform, public attitudes and political philosophy. Prior to working at

the Fabian Society, Tim was a Special Adviser at the Department of

Trade and Industry, and before that a policy analyst in HM Treasury.

iv


Acknowledgements

The research for this report was conducted by Louise Bamfield

(during 2008-2009) while she was Senior Research Fellow at the

Fabian Society, and by Fabian Society Research Director Tim Horton

(during 2009-2010).

This report is published as part of the Fabian Society’s research

programme Fighting Poverty and Inequality in an Age of Affluence, in

association with the Webb Memorial Trust. The Fabian Society would

like to thank the Webb Memorial Trust for their kind support of this

research programme, including this report.

The authors would like to thank the National Youth Agency for their

support of this research project and its work in earlier stages on the

role of non-formal education. The authors would also like to thank

Serco for their support of this research project. Earlier stages of the

Fabian Society’s research on educational inequality were supported

by the Dartmouth Street Trust.

v


This report is one of a series from the Fabian Society’s research

programme Fighting Poverty and Inequality in an Age of Affluence,

in association with the Webb Memorial Trust. The research

programme commemorates the centenary of a landmark contribution

to social justice: Beatrice Webb’s Minority Report to the Poor Law

Reform Commission.

The Minority Report first set out the vision, arguments and values of

social justice that were to become the foundations of the modern welfare

state. It challenged the dominant assumption that the poor were solely

to blame for their own poverty, demonstrating that the causes of

poverty are structural as well as individual, and argued that society has

a collective responsibility to prevent poverty, not merely alleviate it.

The programme seeks to influence the ideas, policies and arguments

of government and the major political parties through a series of publications,

lectures and seminars. In the spirit of Beatrice Webb's central

concern with winning public support for change, the research also

explores public attitudes towards measures to tackle poverty and

inequality, to investigate what must be done to build a public consensus

for making a socially just society a reality.

Thanks to members of the programme advisory group. The views

contained in this report are those of the authors only.

Rushanara Ali Young Foundation; Mike Brewer Institute for Fiscal

Studies; Kate Green Child Poverty Action Group; Lisa Harker Daycare

Trust/ IPPR; Peter Kellner YouGov; Peter Kenway New Policy Institute;

Barry Knight (chair) Webb Memorial Trust; Jane Lewis LSE; Seema

Malhotra Price Waterhouse Coopers; Audrey Mullender Ruskin

College, Oxford; Jane Roberts Parenting UK; Karen Rowlingson

University of Birmingham; Shamit Saggar University of Sussex;

Nicholas Timmins FT; Polly Toynbee Guardian; Stuart White Jesus

College, Oxford.

vi


For more information about Fighting Poverty and Inequality in an

Age of Affluence, visit the Fabian Society’s website at:

www.fabians.org.uk/research

Earlier reports in this programme included:

• From the Workhouse to Welfare (ed. Ed Wallis, Feb 2009)

• In the Mix (James Gregory, Apr 2009)

• The Solidarity Society (Tim Horton & James Gregory, Dec 2009)

vii


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

viii


Contents

Executive Summary

1 Mind the gap: educational inequality in Britain

today

2 What’s fair The principles of a fair education

system

3 Who cares What the public thinks is fair

4 Learning the lessons for politics and policy

5 Conclusion: Building a public consensus for

more fundamental reform

Endnotes

i

1

11

37

49

85

91


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

x


Executive Summary

Educational inequality is the popular crusade that never was.

Thousands have marched in protest against important issues like

the hunting ban, airport expansions or the price of fuel. But there

has been no angry mob of citizens descending on Downing Street to

demand action to close the education gap. Perhaps the closest we have

come to popular protests about educational inequality has been student

demonstrations against the introduction of university tuition fees. But

even here, the broader case for tackling inequality has not been made.

It is true that the gap in children’s life chances has been rising up the

political and policy agenda over the last few years. In the last

Parliament, the previous Labour Government demonstrated a fresh

wave of interest and concern about the size of the class gaps in opportunity

and outcomes.

But, in the main, there is no widespread sense of moral outrage

against the scale and durability of educational inequality. When alarm

bells ring about the state of education in Britain today, it is generally a

different set of issues which attract most attention. While there is

frequent coverage of concerns around alleged falling standards, failing

schools, failing pupils and a ‘dumbed-down’ curriculum, stories about

the routine, systematic transmission of educational advantage and

disadvantage do not generate headlines in the same way.

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

Mind the gap

This lack of public concern exists despite a powerful body of evidence

detailing the scale and extent of educational inequality, and some of this

evidence is set out in Chapter 1. Research studies show a clear class gap

in children and young people’s attainment, which emerges early and

then widens by the end of primary school. It gets stronger still as pupils

progress through secondary school, leading to clear class differences in

the pathways into further and higher education and beyond that into

employment. Analysis demonstrates that the gaps in attainment and

qualifications by the ages of 16 and 18 are so important because of what

they mean for children’s future life chances. Prior attainment is the

single biggest factor predicting future outcomes.

But the attainment gap is only half the story. There is also an opportunity

gap: inequalities continue to exist in children’s access to enriching

and stimulating learning activities, both inside and outside the home.

These are the kinds of stimulating experiences that, in addition to developing

core cognitive skills, foster confidence and independence, and

promote social interaction. As we shall see, the gap in children’s

learning opportunities early in life is compounded by inequalities in

their learning experiences at school and beyond, which then translate

into unequal outcomes in formal tests of attainment as well as in later

life outcomes.

What’s fair

To what extent are these differences in educational opportunities and

outcomes unfair After all, clearly not all differences in how pupils are

treated, or in the resources allocated for their education, constitute an

injustice. Part of the task in deciding what is fair in education, then, is

deciding how to balance ‘equality’ with ‘difference’, that is, deciding

when fairness demands equal treatment and when is it fair to treat individuals

differently.

ii


Executive Summary

So what would a fair system look like It may seem naïve even to pose

the question. Arguably it is more useful to find out ‘what works’, rather

than to envisage what would be ideally fair, under conditions that we

cannot possibly hope to replicate. But a ‘what works’ approach only

raises the question of what the objectives of education policy are – and

to what extent concerns about inequality should weigh in our decisionmaking

when reforming the system.

To explore the principles of fairness that should guide educational

reform, Chapter 2 considers three possible models of a fair education

system, each based on a distinct philosophy: a meritocratic system, a

comprehensive system and a choice-based system. By drawing out the

core principles and assumptions that underpin each model, the analysis

asks whether or not such a model would be fair and examines a number

of common objections.

As we argue, fairness does not consist in any single one of these

idealised models. There are elements of each that it will be important to

try to capture. The challenge is how to extract what is intuitively persuasive

and powerful about each model, whilst avoiding the accompanying

disadvantages and distortions.

We conclude this chapter by drawing on the analysis to identify some

‘fairness tests’ for the education system, against which the credentials of

any new proposal can be assessed:

• First, policy proposals should pass a basic test of closing

gaps in attainment and participation between those from

more and less advantaged backgrounds. Far more needs to

be done to break the link between family background and

educational attainment. This demands that resources are

used to promote the life chances of all children, whilst

boosting the attainment of children from the most disadvantaged

backgrounds, to ensure that the gaps in attainment

and participation start to narrow.

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

• Second, at an institutional and classroom level, fairness

demands enough diversity of provision to ensure diverse

needs are met, but, crucially, without systematically separating,

labelling or stigmatising pupils. This is essential to

honour the principles of equal citizenship and equal status

on which our education system must be based.

• Third, educational structures and processes must be able to

show that they are able to create proper incentives to motivate

and inspire learners, as well as rewarding effort and

achievement – without allowing the system to be distorted

in favour of the most privileged.

• Fourth, fairness also demands a more extensive form of

choice – to give every person more choice and control over

when and how they learn throughout their lives, not just

limited to compulsory schooling.

• Fifth, a fairer education system would do much more to promote

greater engagement and interaction between people from different

social backgrounds. Diversity of provision and choice must not

come at the expense of social inclusion and integration.

Who cares

And yet, despite the wealth of data on the gaps in education, making the case for

tackling educational inequality poses a considerable challenge. The bare facts

about inequality do not always speak for themselves, lacking the element of

surprise – the ‘wow’ factor needed to really grab people’s attention. When focus

groups conducted for this project spelled out the class gaps in education to

members of the public, what is most apparent is how unremarkable they found

them and how unsurprised people were to hear that children from more advantaged

backgrounds end up in more advantaged positions.

iv


Executive Summary

Have we as a society become immune to inequality Perhaps, in

today’s unequal society, the pattern of unequal chances has become so

familiar that it fosters a sense of indifference rather than indignation.

In fact, our research finds that people do have views about fairness in

education: they are neither oblivious to the current pattern of educational

chances, nor indifferent. But their views are also ambivalent,

because they view the issues concerned through different ‘lenses’ – as

citizens, parents and workers – and bring different principles with them

in each case.

Chapter 3 briefly reports on attitudes research conducted for the

project, which explores people’s judgements about fairness in education

and the factors that underpin these judgements.

Learning the lessons for politics and policy

In Chapter 4, building on the analysis of previous chapters, we

identify a number of reforms to the education system that would

help to narrow the gaps in educational outcomes and experiences,

focussing on four different stages of the education system:

the early years; compulsory schooling; transitions to adulthood,

including tertiary education; and training during working life.

We also evaluate a number of reforms currently being

proposed. The new Coalition Government has said it will place

fairness and social justice at the heart of its agenda for government.

And the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove,

has unveiled a series of reforms with the express intention of

helping improve outcomes for disadvantaged groups. In this

chapter, we apply the fairness tests set out in Chapter 2 to assess

the new Government’s headline education policies. To what

extent do the proposals – the new Pupil Premium, the expansion

of the Academies programme and the introduction of new ‘free

schools’, alongside the ‘refocusing’ of Sure Start children’s

centres – pass the most basic of fairness tests, to narrow the gaps

in pupil attainment and participation

v


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

Briefly, we conclude that:

• The new Government’s emphasis on promoting children’s development

in the early years of life is welcome. But in ‘refocusing’ provision

in Sure Start Children’s Centres, the risk is that services will be

withdrawn from low-income families living in less deprived areas,

that some of those in the most vulnerable groups will continue to be

missed, and that the gains from a popular universal service will be

undermined. There are compelling reasons to uphold a universal

service – not only to provide important assistance to middle-income

families, but also because a non-stigmatising service is likely to be

more effective at bringing in the neediest families; and because the

broader social mix in children’s centres means that children from

more disadvantaged families are able to benefit from social interaction

with a wider cross section of their peers.

• The proposal to create a ‘pupil premium’ – giving schools extra

funding for more disadvantaged pupils – is a laudable move to

ensure more resources are directed towards the most disadvantaged

pupils. The priority for the short term is to recognise that some

schools will need further support to ensure that they make use of

additional resources in the fairest and most effective way. Without

this, the risk is that some schools may not use the extra resources in

an optimum way and the attainment gaps will not be closed. It is also

important to ensure there are mechanisms in place to ensure that

schools are accountable for spending the extra resources effectively.

• Regarding the expansion of the Academies programme, the proposal

to fast-track schools rated as ‘outstanding’ will be bound to benefit a

far greater proportion of less disadvantaged schools, since only a

small proportion of schools recently judged as outstanding can be

categorised as having a disadvantaged intake.

• Given the very different capabilities and resources that parents

vi


Executive Summary

and pupils have to take advantage of choice and diversity within

education, the proposal to create a new generation of ‘free schools’

risks introducing a dynamic into our already-divided schools

system that could increase and entrench segregation between

different social groups.

Conclusion

Finally, in the Conclusion, we consider the challenge of winning some

of the political arguments for education reform.

In particular, the politics of a more mixed and inclusive education

system are difficult, to say the least. That is why the approach envisaged

in this report is deliberately a long-term one, motivated by consensusbuilding.

Imposing changes across the whole system in a ‘top-down’

way is bound to be politically unsustainable if they are not seen as fair

and generate anxiety for many. Entrenching change is only possible by

gaining public support for reforms and establishing consensus within

communities about the underlying objectives of mix and equality.

We shouldn’t be pessimistic about the prospect of achieving such a

consensus, but doing so requires a long-term and subtle strategy to

address the causes of parental anxiety about education. Importantly,

simply regurgitating the data about the class gaps in education is not

enough to win the political argument for removing inequalities within

the system. While egalitarians may of course be convinced of the case

for action, simply having a ‘say it louder’ version of traditional egalitarian

arguments for reform won’t achieve this.

We suggest three priorities here:

• The first task for campaigners is to overcome people’s sense of

fatalism and inevitability by showing that inequalities in education

are not fixed or immutable. International evidence can be a

powerful resource here, as can the most inspiring examples of

local success.

vii


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

• Second, we need to tackle the underlying fear and anxiety among

‘middle-class’ parents of more socially-mixed schools. A large part

of this is about the narrative we use in education. Discussions

about ‘standards’ and ‘educational failure’, which speak to legitimate

concerns about the quality of education, are in practice often

elided with a more visceral set of concerns about the state of

Britain, crime, ‘feral children’ and a range of other moral panics.

As a result, something very toxic has happened in the public politics

of education, where very large social groups, like ‘low-income

households’ or those from ‘disadvantaged areas’, are often

conflated with very small social groups with extreme behaviours,

such as ‘chaotic families’ or those engaged in anti-social behaviour.

So we need a new kind of narrative about educational inequality –

one that reduces the social distance between disadvantaged pupils

and everyone else, rather than increasing it – and this must go

hand in hand with measures to promote more mixed communities

outside the school gates.

• A strong driving force that maintains divisions and inequalities

within our education system is a belief on the part of many politicians,

decision-makers and practitioners that such divisions and

inequalities are inevitable. Politicians often say there’s a problem

with ‘poverty of aspiration’ in Britain. Well there is: a profound

lack of ambition among too many of our political class for disadvantaged

kids. Only when we stop thinking about the education

system in ways that anticipate division and failure, and only when

we stop expecting children from different backgrounds to follow

different pathways, will we really be able to get to grips with some

of the long-entrenched inequalities in our education system.

viii


1 | Mind the gap: educational

inequality in Britain today

The facts about educational inequality at key stages of the life

course are well established. In its last term in office, Labour’s

education policy focused more explicitly than ever before on

narrowing the gaps in pupil attainment between children from more

and less disadvantaged backgrounds. Analysis of attainment gaps by

the (then) Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) was

bolstered by authoritative independent reviews of the research evidence

on inequality and disadvantage. 1 These studies, focusing on the drivers

of intergenerational disadvantage, social, educational and health

inequalities and stalled social mobility, tell a compelling story about the

state of educational disadvantage and inequality in the UK today.

The research evidence shows that the social class gap in attainment –

as measured by pupil eligibility for free school meals (FSM) 2 – emerges

early and then widens by the end of primary school. It gets stronger still

as pupils progress through secondary school, leading to clear class

differences in the pathways into further and higher education and

beyond that into employment. 3 Analysis demonstrates that the gaps in

attainment and qualifications by the ages of 16 and 18 are so important

because of what they mean for children’s future life chances. 4 Prior

attainment is the single biggest factor predicting future outcomes. 5 1


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

But the attainment gap is only half the story. There is also the opportunity

gap: inequalities continue to exist in children’s access to enriching

and stimulating learning activities, both inside and outside the home.

These are the kinds of experiences that, in addition to developing core

cognitive skills, foster confidence and independence, and promote

social interaction. As we shall see, the gap in children’s learning opportunities

early in life is compounded by inequalities in their learning

experiences at school and beyond, which then translate into unequal

outcomes both in formal tests of attainment as well as later life

outcomes.

Analysing the gaps

The gap in attainment emerges early and then widens

Children from different socio-economic backgrounds tend to display

different levels of language ability, communication and social development.

As evidence from Millennium Cohort Study reveals, a class gap in

children’s development has emerged by the time children are just two

years old. By the age of three, some children from more deprived families

are lagging a full year behind their more advantaged peers in terms

of cognitive and social development. 6 And by the time they start school,

children display quite marked differences in terms of their attainment in

key outcomes:

• As analysis by DCSF shows, during the foundation stage, the odds

of a non-FSM pupil achieving at least 6 points in tests of communication,

language and literacy are 2.5 times that of a FSM pupil.

The attainment gap then widens by the end of Key Stage 1 and is

maintained during Key Stage 2. By the end of Key Stage 1, the

odds of pupils who receive free school meals achieving good

outcomes (defined as level 2 in reading, writing and maths) are

three times less than non-FSM pupils.

2


Mind the gap

• The gap widens further during secondary school. In national tests

of attainment at age 11 (Key Stage 2), the odds of FSM pupils

reaching the expected standard are three times less than their

peers, widening slightly during secondary school to 3.5 times less

at ages 14 and 16 (Key Stages 3 and 4).

• This ‘odds ratio’ is still three-to-one on entry to university. 7

Why the gaps matter

These class gaps in educational attainment are so important because

childhood deprivation and disadvantage have a significant impact on

later outcomes in adulthood.

Inequalities in educational outcomes have important impacts on

people’s health and well-being, quality of life, as well as future income,

employment and living standards. The Marmot Review highlights the

strong relationship between inequalities in education outcomes and the

social gradient in physical and mental health. 8

And as analysis for the

Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown, there is a very clear pathway

from childhood disadvantage to reduced employment opportunities,

with earnings estimated to be reduced by between 15 and 28 per cent

and the probability of being in employment at age 34 reduced by

between 4 and 7 per cent. 9

Why do the gaps exist

1) There is a gap in access to stimulating learning

experiences in the early years of life

The class gap in learning and development begins early in life, even

before children enter the classroom. However, as Leon Feinstein’s wellknown

analysis of the cohort of children born in 1970 demonstrates,

these class differences are not innate but acquired. Feinstein’s analysis

3


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

GRAPH: Cognitive test scores by age and social class, for the cohort of children born in 1970 (adapted from

the National Equality Panel report, 2010). As can be seen, lower social class children who were initially

assessed in the top quarter of ability are gradually overtaken by higher social class children who were

initially assessed in the bottom quarter.

100

90

80

70

60

50

40

30

20

10

1970 cohort

0

22 42 62 82 102 122

Age (months)

High Social class bottom quarter

High Social class top quarter

Low Social class bottom quarter

Low Social class top quarter

4


Mind the gap

reveals that initially high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds

(who performed well in early tests of cognitive development at

22 months) on average tend to fall behind children from more advantaged

backgrounds, who initially performed less well. 10 This is illustrated

in the graph on the left.

So, for the 1970 cohort, initial gains in children’s early cognitive

development were soon outweighed by the impact of family factors and

parents’ socio-economic status. Worryingly, the effect of social class

appears to be just as strong today: the data for the cohort of children

born in 2000 indicates the same pattern of outcomes in their early years

development as that of earlier cohorts. 11

So what has happened to affect the chances of children from more

deprived backgrounds so dramatically by the age of five And why do

these gaps widen as children progress through the school system

Below we look at several contributing factors.

Beginning in the early years of a child’s life, parents with greater

assets and resources – both educational and financial – are generally

able to provide more stimulating and enriching activities within the

home. 12 As the Marmot Review of health inequalities reports, parents

are the most important ‘educators’ of their children for both cognitive

and non-cognitive skills. 13 Literacy and language difficulties in primary

school are often a symptom of early disadvantage, as well as being a

cause of later educational inequality.

Children’s development is also importantly affected by the emotional

support and encouragement they receive, particularly from their family

and close personal relationships. Recent analysis of the Millennium

Cohort Study demonstrates that parents’ capacity to provide a warm

and nurturing environment, together with an engaged and structured

parenting style, has important effects on children’s social, emotional

and personal development by age five. 14 More widely, children’s development

is affected by the understandings, ways of behaving, and attitudes

of parents and significant others – commonly understood as

forms of social and cultural capital. 15

5


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

The focus of this report is on the education system itself, so

proposals to improve the stimulus and support that children receive

within the home environment will be beyond the scope of later chapters.

But it is worth noting here that this agenda will clearly be a

hugely important component of any strategy to narrow the gaps in

educational attainment.

These differences in the home environment are often compounded by

unequal access to enriching learning experiences outside the home,

particularly those provided by high-quality early years education in

formal settings such as Sure Start children’s centres. While good early

years provision is good for all children, it is particularly important for

children from deprived backgrounds, since it has a disproportionately

positive impact on their development. 16 In practice, gaps in access to

high quality early years provision result in a double disadvantage, since

those who would most benefit from stimulating early learning activities

are those least likely to access them. 17

2) There is a gap in access to well-resourced, highperforming

schools

Marked differences also exist in children’s access to well-resourced and

high-performing schools. Where children live strongly affects the range

and (perceived) quality of schools available to them; and crucially,

where children live and go to school is strongly shaped by their parents’

level of resources. 18 As research demonstrates, whereas parents on

higher incomes can afford to move to areas with the most popular and

highly performing schools, parents on the lowest incomes are not so

fortunate. 19

6

Analysis of school performance, distance travelled to school and

family income shows that as the performance of the local school

becomes lower, children from affluent families are less likely to go there.

Focusing on schools in the bottom quarter of the national league table,

a pupil eligible for free school meals is 30 per cent more likely to attend

their low-scoring local school than an otherwise-identical pupil from a


Mind the gap

better-off family. 20 Of course, here it is important to emphasise that

‘school quality’ as measured by placing in standard league tables is not

a full or accurate reflection of the actual quality of a school, which can

be better demonstrated through more sophisticated measures of

performance (for example, their ‘value added’ score).

There is a strong correlation between levels of deprivation in an area

and the number of schools that inspectors have placed in ‘special measures’

because they are judged not to supply an acceptable level of

education. In 2006, over thirty per cent of schools in the poorest local

authority areas (the bottom ten per cent on an index of multiple deprivation)

were in special measures, as compared to less than five per cent

in the richest three deciles. The consequence is that children living in

areas of higher deprivation are far more likely to attend schools that

perform less well.

Again, it is important to stress that many schools located in more

deprived areas demonstrate good or outstanding levels of teaching

and pupil performance, as measured by Ofsted inspections and valueadded

scores. (Later on we discuss the damaging effect of unwarranted

generalisations about schools in disadvantaged areas,

including the tendency to describe such schools or the pupils who

attend them as ‘failing’.) But the general pattern remains that children

from more disadvantaged backgrounds are least likely to access the

schools judged to be outstanding.

Analysis of data from every secondary school in England provides

clear evidence of a strong underlying relationship between their GCSE

performance and their social mix of pupils. 21 Children from middleclass

families are over-represented at the most successful and highest

status schools, while children from more disadvantaged backgrounds

are vastly over-represented at the lowest ranking, lowest status

schools. Research by the Sutton Trust backs this up, showing that the

vast majority of the top 100 state schools in England have low proportions

of children on free school meals compared with both local and

national levels. 22

7


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

Unequal access to well-resourced schools matters because research

shows the difference that schools can make to pupils’ learning and

outcomes. Of course, schooling is only one of a number of factors that influence

outcomes. Arguably, other factors, such as the stimulus provided in

the home environment, are just as influential, if not more. But schooling is

clearly important. Assessing the intergenerational transmission of educational

success, Feinstein and colleagues investigated the role of the school

and concluded that there is strong and robust evidence to suggest that

schools are independently important for children’s outcomes. And as the

2009 DCSF review of education and deprivation concludes, there is also

evidence to suggest that some schools are more effective than others. 23

Crucially, in terms of their effectiveness, some schools are much better

resourced than others, not just in terms of funding, but in terms of the

quality of teaching and facilities, as well as being ‘better resourced’ in terms

of peer group influences and social networks. And unequal access to the

highest-ranking, most popular schools translates into unequal access to the

range of resources in those schools – of which teaching quality is a critical

component. 24

Importantly, research shows that pupils from deprived backgrounds are

typically less likely to experience good quality teaching. 25 Research also

shows that teacher turnover tends to be higher in schools with above

average eligibility for free school meals, 26 a consequence of the “higher

workload and stress involved in teaching children from deprived backgrounds

for whom behavioural problems are more common.” 27 So pupils

from lower-income families are not only more likely to attend the lowestranking,

least popular schools, they are also more likely to experience lower

quality teaching, more teacher shortages and higher teacher turnover.

Finally, a significant gap also exists in the kinds of learning activities

and experiences that children are able to access outside of school.

Research shows differences in the level and type of young people’s leisure

activity by household income and age group. In the National Foundation

for Educational Research’s assessment of learning activities outside the

classroom, secondary school pupils in areas of high deprivation and in

8


Mind the gap

schools with higher proportions of pupils with special educational needs

were less likely to be offered opportunities for such experiences than

other pupils. 28 Similarly, research also demonstrates that more affluent

young people were more likely to attend organised activities after school,

while those on free school meals were generally more reliant on provision

within school. Differences were found for older age groups in this regard:

in Year 9 (age 14-15), the range of organised activities available for young

people on free school meals was more limited than for the younger cohort

in Year 6 (age 11-12). 29

3) There are gaps in participation in higher education

Students from lower income families are far less likely to go on to university.

Only 13 per cent of free school meal pupils go on to higher education,

compared to 32 per cent of those not receiving them. 30

There seem to be various factors involved here. First, participation in

higher education is very closely linked to prior attainment at GCSE. 31 So

inequalities in the latter feed into inequalities in the former.

But there is a further dimension here beyond prior attainment. As the

2010 National Equality Panel Report details, free school meals students

with results at the top of the range are less likely to go on to higher education

than non-free school meals students with the same results – by more

than 10 percentage points for the highest achievers. It appears that students

from lower-income families face additional hurdles and barriers to participation.

Here, cost may be an important factor: after the introduction of

tuition fees in 1998, the participation gap between students from higher and

lower socio-economic backgrounds widened from 28 percentage points in

1998 to 31 percentage points in 2001.

It should also be noted that there are class gaps in the type of institution

students attend. Stephen Machin and colleagues found that of

students completing higher education in 2002-03, more than 40 per cent

of those with professional parents went to Russell Group universities,

compared to less than a quarter of those with manual, semi-skilled or

unskilled parents. 32

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

4) There are gaps in adults’ access to learning and training

There are various inequalities in adults’ access to learning and training, of

which perhaps the most significant is access to training in the workplace.

Again, prior attainment is a strong predictor of access to training at work,

with lower qualified workers facing by far the greatest barriers in

accessing training.

According to data from the Labour Force Survey, just 9 per cent of

employees without a qualification are offered regular training (a figure

that has remained relatively static over the last decade). This compares

with 24 per cent of those with a Level 2 qualification (GCSEs); 27 per cent

of those with a Level 3 qualification (A levels); and 38 per cent of those

with a degree. 33

So graduate employees are four times more likely to be offered training

by their employer than those without any qualifications are.

Another factor highlighted by the recent National Equality Panel report

is the inequality in access to training between those in full-time and parttime

jobs; as the report argues, the lack of opportunities for training and

progression in many part-time jobs is symptomatic of a broader failure to

value part-time work sufficiently.

Another recent report by the TUC summarises the situation well: despite

improvements in the provision available to employees over the last decade,

“access to workplace training remains a pipedream for many employees

and especially those in greatest need of improving their skills”. In this way,

inequalities in access to training in adult life compound the socioeconomic

inequalities examined in previous sections.

* * *

Having looked at a range of inequalities in attainment, experiences and

opportunities within the education system, we turn in the next chapter to

ask what a fair education system might look like in practice, and how we

might use different ideas about fairness to think about policy reform.

10


2 | What’s fair The principles of a

fair education system

To what extent are differences in educational opportunities and

outcomes unfair After all, clearly not all differences in how

pupils are treated, or in the resources allocated for their education,

constitute an injustice. Fairness is not synonymous with equality,

in the sense of treating children in a strictly equal or identical way; in

many cases, fairness demands differential treatment in order to take

account of people’s diverse and non-identical needs. Part of the task in

deciding what is fair in education, then, is deciding how to balance

‘equality’ with ‘difference’, that is, deciding when fairness demands

equal treatment and when is it fair to treat individuals differently.

To explore the principles of fairness that should guide educational

reform, in this chapter we consider three possible models of a fair

education system: a meritocratic system, a comprehensive system and a

choice-based system. As we set out below, each model is based on a

distinct philosophy – a particular set of principles, values and distributive

norms, as well as a distinct account of the purpose of education. By

drawing out the core principles and assumptions that underpin each

model, the analysis asks whether or not such a model would be fair and

examines a number of common objections. 35

As we argue here, fairness does not consist in any single one of these

idealised models. There are elements of each that it will be important to

try to capture. The challenge then is how to extract what is intuitively


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

persuasive and powerful about each model, whilst avoiding the accompanying

disadvantages and distortions.

We conclude by drawing on this analysis to identify some ‘fairness

tests’ for the education system, against which the credentials of any new

proposal can be assessed.

Deciding what’s fair: distributive norms and

principles

Jennifer Hochschild, in her classic work What's Fair: American Beliefs

about Distributive Justice (1981), distinguishes between different principles

and norms of distributive justice, which embody different starting

assumptions about the claim people can legitimately make on resources.

In some cases, judgements about fairness and justice will begin from a

principle of equality, based on a core assumption that all people may

legitimately make the same claims on social resources, regardless of

differences in gender, ethnicity, class or other individual characteristics.

In its simplest form, it means giving every person exactly the same

resources; in a more complex form, differences in treatment can be justified

providing that they respect the fundamental equality of persons

(for example, in some contexts where different levels of resources are

allocated to meet different needs).

In other cases, people’s judgements about fairness begin from a principle

of differentiation, based on a core assumption that people are

inevitably different in ways that usually call for unequal allocations of

resources. In its simplest form, one of ‘ascription’, this principle means

that individuals with different innate characteristics (such as gender,

ethnicity, class and so on) can legitimately make different claims on

social resources. In a more complex form, differences of treatment may

be justified according to differences in individuals’ behaviour or results.

In these latter cases, fairness is often linked with personal responsibility,

according to which some people can justly have more than others by

virtue of their differential efforts, abilities or contributions.

12


What’s fair

Thus, different distributive norms can be thought of as lying along a

continuum from ‘sameness’ to ‘differentiating’, ranging at one end

from egalitarian norms of identical treatment and need, through

norms of investment, effort and results, to norms of pure ascription at

the other end. Cutting across this continuum are other values such as

freedom of choice and concern for efficiency.

Deciding what is fair in education is so often difficult and controversial

because any decision about educational resources is likely to entail

trade-offs between different norms and values. Thus, for example,

people may agree that individuals with greater educational needs

deserve additional resources – but disagree either about the definition

of ‘need’, or about the amount of additional resource that can reasonably

be justified on the grounds of cost and efficiency.

In addition to distributive norms, people also draw on procedural

norms in making judgements about a fair way of allocating goods and

resources. Some procedures, such as lotteries, assume equality of

persons; others, such as market mechanisms, are based on differences

(such as differences in demand or purchasing power). Often, the appropriateness

of a procedure will depend upon the good in question: for

example, a process of fair and open competition would be appropriate

to use in making decisions between candidates applying for the same

job, but would not generally be considered appropriate in making decisions

about which patient should receive a limited medical resource

such as an organ transplant.

It is important to note that people tend to draw on different norms

and values in different ‘spheres’ or domains of life: the socialising

domain of ‘everyday’ life, in which, for example, parents make decisions

relating to their own children’s well-being; the political domain,

in which decisions are made about the overall distribution of

resources; and the economic domain, which addresses issues of

earning a living, competing for jobs, and finding one’s place in

society. Hochschild’s research suggests that people tend to use egalitarian

norms (of identical treatment or need) in the socialising and

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

political domains, and differentiating norms (results-based or ascriptive

norms) in the economic domain.

14

Where does education fit in Educational decisions fall under

different, overlapping domains, and different distributive and procedural

norms are perceived to be appropriate at different levels and in

different phases of education. For example, a different set of norms may

be called upon in making decisions about the most appropriate arrangements

for the education of younger children as compared to that of

older students and adult learners. Furthermore, this analytic framework

helps explain ambivalence in people’s own views of fairness in education:

when education is viewed as an economic matter, people tend to

argue from a principle of differentiation (such as the principle of

personal responsibility), drawing on distributive norms which may

have disequalising effects; when it is viewed as a political matter, people

tend to argue from a principle of equal citizenship or equal concern,

drawing on egalitarian norms which are more likely to have redistributive

effects. Importantly, part of what makes political debates about fairness

in education so contested is that what for some people is a political

question is for other people an individual or economic question.

As we argue below, this explains why different political discourses

around education can be hugely significant in how they affect people’s

judgements about fairness, by encouraging them to draw on the norms

of a particular domain. So, for example, the political narrative around

‘choice’ tends to bring educational issues into the (private) domain of

market consumption, with significant consequences for the norms and

values people then apply.

Exploring principles of fairness: three competing

models of a fair education system

In this section we consider three possible notions of a fair education

system: a meritocratic system, a comprehensive system and a choicebased

system. As we set out below, each model is based on a distinct

philosophy – a particular set of principles, values and distributive


What’s fair

norms, as well as a distinct account of the purpose of education. These

are, if you want, ‘ideal types’ (though they also loosely relate to different

waves of education reform set out in the box further below); in practice,

elements of different models can and do co-exist within the same

system. In addition, each model also embodies different assumptions

about the drivers of human behaviour, and also the consequences of

different kinds of social interaction. By drawing out the core principles

and assumptions that underpin each model, the analysis then asks

whether or not such a model would be fair and examines a number of

common objections.

(i) A meritocratic education system

The principle of meritocracy

The defining feature of a meritocratic system is that positions of trust

and responsibility should be earned rather than inherited. Although

originally intended as a warning by its inventor, Michael Young, the

idea of meritocracy has a wide resonance because it accords with many

people’s innate sense of fairness, based around a belief in personal

responsibility – the belief that people should be rewarded for the efforts

and contribution they make and the capacities they possess. For many,

‘meritocratic’ is treated as synonymous with ‘fair’. And indeed,

compared to some of the alternatives – aristocracy, nepotism, plutocracy

or cronyism – a meritocratic model offers distinct advantages. A meritocratic

method of recruiting and promoting individuals in the workplace,

for example, which recognises and rewards people’s effort and ability, is

more obviously fair than granting (or withholding) access to jobs on the

basis of birth, family connections, wealth or social influence. 37

Features of a meritocratic system

Applied to education, a meritocratic system would ensure that individuals

were rewarded for their efforts and abilities, rather than on the

basis of educationally irrelevant factors such as family background,

15


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

parental income or social status. Arguably, it would also ensure that

children had the same chances of developing their capacities.

In practice, the meritocratic principle could be realised through a

variety of institutional structures and teaching arrangements at school

level and beyond. The key question is to decide when or at what stage

of education it is fair to decide places on the basis of open competition,

for example through a test or examination designed to identify relevant

abilities. One option would be for a test of academic selection to be

made at the transition to secondary school, at age eleven. Another

option would be to delay selecting individuals by academic ability until

they have reached a higher level of education, for example at transition

to university or further education.

Advantages of a meritocratic system

The meritocratic principle is a powerful one in education, which

accords with a basic, intuitive belief that people should be rewarded for

their efforts and contribution. As set out in the box below, the idea that

educational places and opportunities should be decided on the basis of

ability and talent, not wealth and status, has underpinned successive

waves of educational reform in the post-war period. From an economic

perspective, allocating educational resources and rewards on the basis

of ‘merit’ or demonstrated ability has the advantage of being more efficient

than alternatives.

A fully meritocratic system of education would therefore have the

considerable advantage of being both ambition-sensitive and endowment-insensitive.

It would be sensitive to people’s ambitions, by recognising

the contribution they make, and providing the incentives to

develop and strive to succeed. And it would be insensitive to people’s

family background, parental income or social status – in contrast to an

elite private school system, based on parents’ ability to pay.

Objections to a meritocratic system

Despite the attractions of a fully meritocratic system in theory, a

16


What’s fair

number of strong objections are voiced against attempts to establish a

meritocratic system in practice. In the British education system, the

idea of meritocracy has traditionally been associated with an academically

selective school system, based on an examination to assess ability

at age eleven.

Critics of academic selection argue that while open competition

may be the fairest way to choose between candidates for, say, jobs in

the labour market, it does not follow that it is a fair basis for the

school system.

One important set of objections here challenges the whole idea that

children can be assessed and assigned into different categories of

learner or types of intelligence, which call for different types of school

or educational setting. In particular, such an idea may mistakenly

assume that ability is naturally fixed or immutable. One concern here is

that separating pupils into different institutions of varying status,

according to the individual characteristics of pupils, has detrimental

effects on pupils’ learning and negative effects on their self-esteem. 38

Similarly, some would argue that if pupils are systematically divided

into different teaching sets or streams at the year-group or classroom

level, this risks creating negative ‘labelling’ effects. After all, if students

are systematically organised into groups for a significant part of their day,

the make up of these groups will also influence approaches to teaching

style and curriculum, the allocation of learning support resources to

different pupils, the nature of learning peer groups, and also very

possibly the formation of friendship groups outside the classroom. 39

Another, more practical point – and in our view a convincing one – is

that it is not obvious that an academically selective school system is

actually a meritocratic one at all. In practice, it may be impossible to

separate children’s demonstrated ability from the markedly different

array of resources that parents have at their disposal to promote their

children’s learning and development. Where children are sorted, for

example, at age eleven on the basis of demonstrated ability, it could be

argued that what is actually being assessed is not their ‘true’ ability at

17


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

all (even if there is such a thing), but rather something that significantly

reflects the influence of different parental resources and

different home environments.

Related to this, it may appear especially unfair to separate pupils

into different types of school at too early an age, because it risks

closing off options for the future. And selection by ability at an early

age also appears unmeritocratic, because the relationship between

family background and educational outcomes is particularly strong

for younger children.

Situations such as these actually offend against the core premise of

meritocracy, which is to break the link with family background and so

ensure that rewards are earned rather than inherited. It follows that an

elite selective school system is only superficially meritocratic, because it

reproduces the link between family background and educational

outcome. In other words, it fails on its own terms - namely, that rewards

should be earned rather than inherited.

By contrast, a genuinely meritocratic school system would do far

more to break the link between family background and educational

opportunities and outcomes, by targeting resources more effectively at

disadvantaged students to allow students to be evaluated on a level

playing field. A genuinely meritocratic system would also aim to delay

selection by ability until students are older.

Conclusion

The meritocratic principle is a powerful one in education: a fully meritocratic

system of education would offer the considerable advantage of

being both sensitive to individuals’ talents, efforts and ambitions and

insensitive to their inherited wealth or parents’ social position. But

despite its widespread appeal, the problem with educational practices

designed along supposedly meritocratic lines is that too often in practice

they actually mask the extent to which family background factors

still predominate. While the intention may be to widen access, the effect

has often been to grant or withhold access to powerful and prestigious

18


What’s fair

institutions on the basis of birth, family connections, parental income or

social influence. In such cases, we are left with the worst of all worlds: a

system that poses as meritocratic, whilst systematically reproducing

social advantage and disadvantage.

(ii) A comprehensive education system

Principles behind the comprehensive ideal

By contrast to the principle of meritocracy, a comprehensive model of

education is guided by the principle of equal citizenship, and draws

primarily on egalitarian norms of identical treatment and norms of

need. At the heart of the comprehensive ideal is a belief that all people

are worthy of equal respect and so deserve equal status. A comprehensive

school system therefore embodies the values of social equality and

citizenship, giving equal status to each school and every child. By

insisting upon equality of institutions and an open system of admissions,

without selection by ability, comprehensive schools and colleges

aim to avoid both academic and social segregation.

A comprehensive system also aims to forge a particular kind of

outlook: a ‘communal’ culture in which people from all social groups

interact freely and engage with one another as social equals, despite

their material inequalities; and in which future lawyers and senior

managers learn alongside future hairdressers and mechanics. 40 As such,

comprehensive education is based explicitly on a particular vision of a

good society: one which is more open and less hierarchical, more cohesive

and less socially divisive; and in which the school is at the centre of

strong local communities. 41

Features of a comprehensive system

The equal entitlement of all individuals to primary and secondary

education is something which is now universally recognised as a basic

right of citizenship. The comprehensive ideal goes much further than

this simple notion of equality, however, by stipulating that the values of

19


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

social equality and citizenship should be embedded in the institutional

structure of the school system.

For younger children, the comprehensive ideal would be realised

through socially integrated and educationally inclusive nurseries and

primary schools. For older children and young adults, it would be

implemented through a network of community schools and colleges,

with open, non-selective admissions processes and inclusive pedagogical

and curricular practice. At the classroom level, the comprehensive

ideal leans towards mixed-ability and whole-class teaching rather than

sorting pupils into streams or sets, while favouring a common

curriculum, to give all learners access to the same knowledge.

In place of the institutional diversity and social division associated

with a hierarchical selective system, a comprehensive system would

therefore be both relatively homogeneous in terms of its institutional

structure, and relatively heterogeneous with respect to schools’ pupil

intake on the basis of ability, religion, ethnicity, gender and social class.

Of course, in practice comprehensive systems will not be purely

heterogenous with respect to pupil intake, since this is to some extent

constrained by geography: pupils will attend nearby schools, whether

in their neighbourhood or within reasonable travelling distance. School

intake will therefore reflect the different make-up of different communities,

and the degree of social mix within communities will be an

important constraint on the ambitions of the comprehensive ideal.

Advantages of a comprehensive system

A comprehensive system of education therefore aspires to be socially

and educationally inclusive, and to achieve equality in educational

experiences for children from different social backgrounds.

Were such a system to be realised, it would offer a number of distinct

advantages, notably a less hierarchical society and also enhanced social

relations and cohesion stemming from more integrated schooling. In

theory, this could have widespread beneficial consequences both for

20


What’s fair

individuals’ general well-being and for improved societal outcomes

(such as reduced social tensions, crime and anti-social behaviour).

Importantly, a comprehensive school system would also help to avoid

the damaging and stigmatising effects that can arise from ranking and

sorting individuals into different institutional tiers or curriculum streams.

Objections to a comprehensive system

For its critics, a comprehensive system is associated with drab uniformity

and with the neglect of individual differences. There are a number

of specific complaints. One is that a comprehensive system is unfair to

pupils because it fails to cater for the full range of needs and abilities. A

second, related, objection is that a comprehensive system is detrimental

to students’ educational interests because it fails to provide the motivation

and competitive environment needed for students to strive and

excel and fails to reward individuals for the efforts that they make and

the results they achieve.

What, then, of the claim that comprehensive schooling treats children

unfairly by treating them all alike Defenders of a more variegated

system ask how any single institution or teaching model, such as mixedability

teaching, can cater for the whole ability range. At one end of the

ability range, comprehensive schools are accused of holding back the

most able pupils and of failing to provide sufficient incentives for

students to strive and excel. In this sense, a comprehensive system is

said to be both unfair in failing to provide adequate rewards for

students’ different efforts and results, and inefficient in failing to

provide the dynamic competitive environment needed to stimulate

pupils to progress. At the other end of the range, a comprehensive

system is charged with failing to provide adequately for pupils with

learning difficulties, who demand more intensive and individualised

forms of learning support.

Thus, far from respecting the equal moral worth of every citizen,

critics argue that the uniformity of a comprehensive system actually

discriminates against some students, particularly those at either end of

21


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

the ability range, by failing to cater adequately for the full range of

educational needs.

This criticism is a serious one. But, in truth, it arises from a misreading

of the comprehensive ideal. Although the comprehensive ideal makes

strong claims about the value and importance of common institutions

and curricular pathways, it does not adhere solely to a norm of strict

equality or identical treatment, and does not insist on equality of

resources in a narrow sense. Within a broadly homogenous institutional

framework and a common curriculum, there is much scope for differentiation

according to individuals’ particular learning needs.

However, although the blanket criticism may not be valid, there is still

an empirical question of the extent to which pupils with the full range

of learning needs can be taught in the same institution. Similarly, within

institutions, it is important to clarify how much differentiation is

possible within a common curricular and pedagogical approach, and at

what point in individuals’ educational development it may become

necessary to allow differentiated institutional and curricular pathways.

In practice, of course, it is possible to combine broadly homogenous

institutions with a wide range of provision within the school, catering

for a diverse range of learning needs. Certainly, at primary level, the

vast majority of children already attend a local school which caters for

a broad range of ability. The arguments for separate or specialist

provision may become stronger for older students, though it is still

possible to combine differentiated teaching with a common

curriculum and institutions.

At the top end of the ability range, it may well be justified to offer

specialist provision to cater for pupils of exceptionally high ability. The

argument for specialist institutions is perhaps strongest, however, in the

case of pupils and students with more severe learning difficulties and

special educational needs, since it may be the case that certain types of

learning support and specialist provision are best provided outside

mainstream institutions. From the point of view of a purist comprehensive

ideal, this is problematic, since the aspiration is to be genuinely

22


What’s fair

inclusive of all pupils, regardless of ‘disability, inability, difficult or

different behaviour’. The worry is that separating children with the

most severe learning needs leads to wider forms of social and educational

exclusion, which have a detrimental effect on children’s psychological

well-being as well as their educational development. But while it

is important to be aware of these detrimental effects, it would clearly

also be wrong to disallow any alternative or specialist provision to be

made outside mainstream institutions. In all cases, the onus should be

on mainstream and specialist providers to demonstrate the educational

need for separate provision and to explain what steps are being taken to

minimise the detrimental effects of being separated from other pupils.

Conclusion

The comprehensive model therefore reminds us of the importance of

having inclusive institutions, curricular and pedagogical practices,

which embody the equal status of citizens, and which avoid the systematic

separation of different schools and learners (and the stigmatisation

that could result).

However, as critics of a comprehensive model also remind us, educational

structures and processes must be able to show that they are able

to cater fully for different needs and create proper incentives to motivate

and inspire learners. In practice, it is necessary to determine the degree

of differentiation that is necessary to meet diverse needs and the extent

to which this is possible to achieve within a common institutional and

curricular framework.

(iii) A choice-based education system

The principle of parental choice

A further common objection to both a comprehensive and an academically

selective system is that both types of system treat parents and

pupils unfairly by denying them a choice of school. The case for a

choice-based system begins with the idea that parents and pupils have

23


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

a right to choose in education and schooling, as well as reflecting a

broad belief in the value of cultural pluralism and institutional diversity.

As well as supporting a right to choose, many advocates of choice

adhere to a belief that parents are better placed to judge what type of

school is appropriate for their child than education professionals or

local authority officials.

Features of a choice-based system

Applied to the secondary school system, the principle of ‘choice’

requires both a parent-led admissions process and a range of institutions

for parents to choose between. Although choice is not synonymous

with institutional diversity, in practice, it is difficult to see how school

choice can exist without some distinctive differences between the

schools on offer.

If meaningfuk choice presupposes a sufficient level of diversity, in

what ways could schools offer distinctive choices Arguably greater

choice could be offered by allowing for much greater variety in the

content of the curriculum and in teaching methods; by opening up the

market to a wide range of providers; or by enabling greater cultural and

educational pluralism in the outlook and ethos of schools – which could,

for example, extend beyond faith schools to encompass humanist

schools, or schools which embody a distinctive set of ethical principles

(such as environmental sustainability).

While much of the debate here is around choice of secondary school,

we should remember that ‘choice’ could operate at all phases of education,

from choice of childcare and primary school, to choice of further

education college or university. In each case, the nature of that choice

would depend on the admissions policy operated by each institution, as

well as flexibility in the supply of places.

Advantages of choice-based systems

Proponents of a choice-based system highlight a number of instrumental

reasons for widening choice in education, as well as upholding

24


What’s fair

the intrinsic value of giving individual learners and families greater

choice over where they access education.

The business case for extending parental choice in schooling rests on

the alleged advantages of a market mechanism – namely, the competitive

pressures which incentivise organisations to become more efficient

and to improve their services in order to attract customers.

Another key advantage is held to be that of promoting greater equity:

proponents of a choice-based school admissions process assert that

deciding places on the basis of parental choice or preference is a fairer

way than allocating on the basis of on neighbourhood or residence (as

in community schools) or one based on ability (as in a selective system).

Indeed, proponents of parental choice often assert that a choice-based

system would actually reduce the ‘sorting’ or segregation of students as

compared to other systems.

Objections to choice-based systems

Critics question the extent to which a choice-based mechanism in

education is able to promote efficiency and greater social equity

in practice.

One common set of criticisms of choice-based systems is on grounds

of inefficiency. For choice to be meaningful, it presupposes more than

one available option – and, in practice, surplus capacity. Without the

necessary capacity, ‘choice’ often ends up simply meaning the opportunity

to express a preference about which services to use; it does not

necessarily follow that users will actually get the option that they prefer.

Providing meaningful choice therefore requires considerable extra

spending on service capacity. In these contexts, there will clearly be a

trade-off between the degree of choice and the efficiency of service

provision.

Some of the strongest criticisms of a choice-based school system are

made on the grounds of inequality. The argument goes that consumerled

provision is problematic because different people have radically

different capabilities to make informed choices and because the

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

system brings with it the chance for those with greater resources (both

financial and non-financial) to ’play the system’ for the benefit of their

own children. 44

There are particular concerns that such systems may exacerbate

inequality if starting from a point where the underlying conditions in

society are already highly unequal. Concerns are heightened because

choice and institutional diversity are combined with status differences:

in reality, parents are not choosing between a variety of institutions of

equal status, but a ranked hierarchy of institutions of higher and lower

status. 45 What is objectionable therefore is not the diversity of institutional

type per se, but the differences in status and ranking between

those institutions.

There would be much stronger arguments in favour of choice if a suitably

regulated market could supply educational pluralism without

creating a class-based hierarchy of schools. 46 However, although in

theory this is possible, in practice it is much harder to realise the mantra

of ‘different but equal’. It could even be argued that the market mechanism

itself will actually encourage a hierarchy of status among schools.

Is it possible to retain the potential advantages of the market mechanism

(such as the competitive pressure to improve school performance)

without the disadvantages of unfair inequalities in market power (especially

those associated with ‘middle class capture’) Some have argued

that a way to do this could be through an ‘egalitarian voucher scheme’,

which would offer equal resources devoted to each child, so that private

schools are obliged to compete for pupils. In contrast to other voucher

schemes, an egalitarian version would preclude any top-up fees being

imposed, and would insist on oversubscribed schools selecting

randomly from those who apply. 47 As such, an egalitarian scheme

would be significantly more equitable than classical private provision,

since in theory it would prevent the most popular or prestigious schools

from filtering the more able students.

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What’s fair

Conclusion

The problems with choice-based systems, then, do not necessarily stem

from problems with the concept of choice per se, but rather with the

way in which it is implemented in practice. In particular, there are

concerns that such systems may exacerbate inequality if starting from a

point where the underlying conditions in society are already highly

unequal.

Beyond these observations, it is also worth questioning the current

fixation with one particular type of choice – the choice of secondary

school – when so many other important aspects of education are

unchosen. If choice is something to be valued, shouldn’t the role of

choice be more genuine and far-reaching More radical reform would

focus on extending personal choice to give individuals far more

freedom over the timing of their education, as well as the setting in

which they learn. This kind of transformation would be extremely

demanding: it would require much more flexible relations between

work and education, a move towards learning organisations attached to

the workplace and in other spheres of life, and significantly increased

funding for continuing education and adult education. In short, it

would mean taking lifelong education seriously as a citizenship right,

just like social security or pensions.

Conclusion: some fairness principles to guide reform

In conclusion, fairness does not reside in any single one of the models

or principles of education examined here. The challenge we face is to

find ways of retaining what is most compelling about each model,

whilst avoiding their accompanying disadvantages and distortions.

Thus, from the meritocratic model, we need to uphold the concern to

create proper incentives to motivate and inspire learners, as well as the

basic fairness of rewarding effort and achievement, without allowing

the system to be distorted in favour of the most privileged. From a

choice-based system, we need to find ways of giving better expression

to the value of individual choice in education throughout people’s lives,

27


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

without becoming fixated by just one type of choice – the choice of a

place in secondary school. And, drawing on the comprehensive model,

we must take steps to ensure that educational institutions are genuinely

inclusive, allowing for a wider social and educational mix to honour the

principle of equal status and to broaden young people’s horizons,

without imposing changes in a uniform or ‘top-down’ way.

Competing interpretations and changing norms of fairness are

evident in different waves of reform in the development of British

education since the late nineteenth century, as set out in the box below.

Box: A brief history of class in education: changing views of

fairness over time

The English education system has long been structured

along class and gender lines. 49 With the rise of mass

schooling for the working classes in the late nineteenth

century, girls and boys from different social classes were

effectively assigned or sorted into their future social, occupational

and domestic roles through the institutions of

formal education. 50

Schooling for ‘the masses’ consisted of

basic instruction in day schools, church schools, Sunday

schools and elementary schools for future labourers and

their wives. At the top of the social hierarchy, the eminent

public schools prepared the sons of an elite social class for

future leadership. In between ‘the elite’ and ‘the masses’

were a multitude of lesser schools, catering for the children

of the emerging middle classes. Intended to confirm rather

than transcend existing social divisions, the rise of mass

schooling embedded a differentiating function into the

education system, based on a norm of ascription (the belief

28


What’s fair

that people’s natural differences made them suitable for

different positions). 51

As a result, higher education and even

secondary education (in the form of an elite, liberal education)

remained an upper-middle-class and predominantly

male domain until well into the twentieth century. 52

Education reform post-1944: from social predestination to

individual merit

By contrast, education policies ushered in after the Second

World War set out deliberately to break down social barriers.

This ‘second wave’ of education reform, as Philip Brown

describes it, involved an ideological shift ‘from the provision

of education based upon what Dewey called the “feudal

dogma of social predestination” to one organised on the

basis of individual merit and achievement’. 53

The first step

was to increase participation in secondary education from

low pre-war levels to achieve a ‘secondary education for all’

– a core tenet of the 1944 Education Act. Under the terms of

the Act, local education authorities were required to provide

state-funded secondary education for all pupils, up to age

15. 54 The Act made explicit reference to the differential abilities

of pupils: schools were required to provide education

that incorporated “instruction and training as may be desirable

in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes”.

In practice, local authorities focused rather more on

providing sufficient schools than on meeting the differentiated

needs of individual pupils. While the Act itself did not

define the types of secondary school to be provided, the

Ministry of Education issued firm guidance stipulating a

tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary

modern schools – though the system that actually emerged

29


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

was largely bipartite, since few technical schools were established

at the time, and had widely disappeared by the

1960s. 55 The dominant system in the post-war era was

therefore bipartite and selective, with grammar schools

for those who passed the 11-plus exams (proportions

varied, but averaged about 30 per cent), and secondary

moderns for the rest.

Underpinning selection to different types of school lay

a series of assumptions about differential ability and the

appropriate form of education for different ‘types’ of

learners – a notion of intelligence based on the premise

that there was a limited pool of highly able individuals in

society who needed to be selected and promoted through

the education system. Thus, despite the aspiration to

break down social class barriers to education, the 1944

Education Act was far from fully inclusive or comprehensive.

In fact, the 1944 Act brought in a system of classifying

pupils which led to a significant minority being

deemed ‘uneducable’. About half of children designated

with special education needs were excluded from mainstream

schooling for the next thirty years, until the

Warnock Report and the 1981 Education Act introduced

multi-agency assessment of children’s learning needs.

Although formal selection at age 11 is now a minority

experience, the underpinning assumptions of a selective

system have had a long legacy: to this day, there is still a

pronounced tendency for students to follow socially determined

tracks that conform to and confirm an existing

‘type’ of learner. It was precisely these assumptions that

were challenged by critics of selection, who argued for a

less rigidly differentiating system of education.

30


What’s fair

Comprehensives: embodying the principle of equality

If the tripartite system enacted after 1944 embodied a principle

of differentiation, the comprehensive system that

replaced it in many parts of the country embodied a principle

of equality or equal concern. In the post-war period,

there was increasing dissatisfaction with formal academic

selection at age 11. Crucially, objections to the 11-plus exam

came from parents of all backgrounds – including middleclass

parents, whose objections were ultimately to prove

most politically influential. Beginning in the early 1950s,

comprehensive schooling began to replace the selective

system, with a more rapid expansion led by Labour

Education Minister Anthony Crosland in the mid-1960s,

often through the amalgamation of secondary modern

schools and grammar schools. In contrast to selective

schooling, the comprehensive system was premised on an

explicit goal to promote educational inclusion and promote

social integration between pupils from more and less disadvantaged

backgrounds.

The rise of a new ‘parentocracy’: school choice and school

standards

By the 1970s, however, criticism of the comprehensive

system was growing, amidst claims that pupil performance

or school ‘standards’ were on the wane. Although

supporting evidence for these assertions was often lacking, a

series of influential papers set out the need to defend ‘merit’

and ‘excellence’ against a ‘creeping mediocrity’ that had

allegedly been allowed to infiltrate schools in the name of

social justice. 56

Under Conservative education ministers in

31


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

the 1980s and early 1990s, the new dominant themes were

school ‘standards’ and school ‘choice’. 57 This led to a series

of market or quasi-market reforms designed to improve

performance by generating competition between institutions

and to allow for a greater expression of parental choice.

This agenda gave rise to a curious mixture of centralised

control and devolved power to schools, more or less explicitly

designed to erode the power of local authorities. These

market reforms combined a liberal impulse to broaden

competition, extend consumer choice and break up state

monopoly of provision (through measures such as the introduction

of ‘local management of schools’, which by-passed

local authorities by devolving power for resource management

to the school level), with a more authoritarian attempt

to extend government control over the organisation and

content of schooling (most notably through the introduction

of a centrally prescribed national curriculum, and the introduction

of a national programme of assessment at key

stages).

As Philip Brown describes it, what was distinctive about this

wave of education reform was a shift from ‘the ideology of meritocracy’

to the ‘ideology of parentocracy’: in practice, this meant a

move towards a system whereby the wishes (and wealth) of

parents was a more important factor shaping children’s learning

experiences and outcomes than the abilities and efforts of pupils.

Practising a form of ‘selective minimalism’, central government

assumed greater control over the content of education, but without

having to take responsibility for the consequences of market competition.

Instead, this responsibility was devolved to parents, who

were then expected to exert pressure on schools to improve their

performance, through the exercise of consumer choice in the

school marketplace.

32


What’s fair

Meeting the challenges set out above requires a more demanding assessment

of fairness than is often applied in education policymaking. Here

we abstract five key principles from the preceding analysis, against

which we can test existing policies and design future reforms.

First, fairness demands that policy proposals pass a simple, basic test

of closing gaps in attainment and participation between those from

more and less advantaged backgrounds. The common lesson from both

meritocratic-selective and choice-based school systems is that far more

needs to be done to break the link between family background and

educational attainment. According to its own logic, an elite meritocratic

system is not fair because it does not do enough to break the link

between family background and educational opportunity. While the

intention is to widen access, too often the effect is to grant or withhold

access to powerful and prestigious institutions on the basis of birth,

family connections, parental income or social influence.

From an egalitarian perspective, the very least that could be required

of a fair education system is that it does no harm, in the sense that it

does not allow gaps to widen – a test which the education system at

present does not manage to pass. To achieve the more ambitious goal of

closing gaps demands that resources are used to promote the life

chances of all children, whilst boosting the attainment of children from

the most disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that the gaps in attainment

and participation start to narrow. This will involve a significant

element of need-based allocation of education funding.

Second, at an institutional and classroom level, fairness demands

enough diversity of provision to ensure diverse needs are met, but,

crucially, without systematically separating, labelling or stigmatising

pupils. This is essential to honour the principles of equal citizenship and

equal status on which our education system must be based. There may

be a strong case for separate institutions in the case of the most severe

learning difficulties, where specialist treatment may be thought to be

preferable. But where specialist provision is made, the onus should be

on providers to minimise the detrimental effects of being separated

33


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

from other pupils. At the classroom level, while groups may need to be

sufficiently differentiated to cater for the full range of needs, it is important

that whatever grouping strategies are used do not undermine equal

status and respect. And while differentiation is an essential part of classroom

practice, a fair system must avoid ‘sorting’ children into separate

institutional ranks at early ages, which can then act to close down

options and possibilities for their future education.

Third, educational structures and processes must be able to show that

they are able to create proper incentives to motivate and inspire

learners, as well as rewarding effort and achievement – without

allowing the system to be distorted in favour of the most privileged. As

we have seen, the meritocratic principle is a powerful one in education:

the idea that places and opportunities should be decided on the basis of

ability and talent, not wealth and status, has underpinned successive

waves of educational reform in the post-war period. But despite its

widespread appeal, the problem with educational practices designed on

supposedly meritocratic lines is that too often in practice they actually

mask the extent to which family background factors still predominate.

We need then to show that educational structures and processes create

proper incentives for all learners, and expose the disincentives within

the system that too often hold back children and young people from

disadvantaged backgrounds.

Fourth, fairness also demands a more extensive form of choice – to

give every person more choice and control over when and how they

learn throughout their lives, not just limited to compulsory schooling.

The current system is fixated on one particular choice – the transition to

secondary school – at the expense of others. A variety of reforms and

new institutional structures would be needed to give individuals more

choice and control over when and how they learn, including more flexibility

around tertiary education and a dramatic expansion of the opportunities

for continuing education.

Fifth, a fairer education system would do much more to promote

greater engagement and interaction between people from different

34


What’s fair

social backgrounds. Holding government to account on this score is

crucial: we know that children’s peer groups and families’ wider social

networks are an important influence, shaping children’s performance

and aspiration. Diversity of provision and choice must therefore not

come at the expense of social inclusion and integration.

* * *

In this chapter, we have asked what a fair education system might look

like and on what principles and values it would be based. We have then

used this analysis to formulate some principles of a fair education

system, against which we can test existing policies and design future

reforms. Before turning to these tasks in later chapters, however, we first

briefly look at public attitudes towards fairness in education – to see

what we can learn here for approaches to reform.

35


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

36


3 | Who cares What the public

thinks is fair

How do the principles and competing interpretations of fairness

set out so far relate to public views about fairness in education

In this chapter, we consider what the public thinks is fair,

drawing on original public attitudes research based on deliberative

focus groups and survey data. Importantly, rather than just a superficial

snapshot of opinion, we draw on the research to explore the underlying

drivers of people’s beliefs and the distributive norms they use in

different circumstances when making judgements about fairness.

As we shall see, while our analysis of public attitudes indicates a

general and widespread willingness to compensate for disadvantage,

people tend to be rather more cautious about changes that would mean

taking advantages away from those who have them. Thus, there is

much greater consensus about the fairness of allocating additional

resources to disadvantaged pupils than there is around proposals for

changing admissions processes in the school system.

Of course, whilst a study of public attitudes is relevant and highly

salient to questions of fairness and how we think about them, in no way

do we wish to suggest that what the public currently thinks is fair


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

should somehow set the limits of what is possible or desirable in education

policy. It is also important to consider the wider political discourses

that influence and shape people’s views, by encouraging them to draw

on particular norms or by making certain values appear more appropriate

in particular circumstances. Indeed, as we argue later, a key part

of the challenge in building a political consensus for more fundamental

educational reform lies in changing the political discourses that influence

and shape what the public thinks is fair.

Awareness of the class gaps in education

The links between children’s family circumstances and parental

resources, on the one hand, and their chances in education, on the other

hand, are widely recognised. Survey evidence shows that not only are

people aware of the difference that parents’ income makes to children’s

life chances, but that nearly seven in ten think that parents’ income

plays too big a part in shaping children’s chances. 59

38

In deliberative research conducted by the Fabian Society in 2008 and

2009, we wanted to explore the extent to which people are aware of the

social class gaps in education, to what extent it is regarded as a problem

and also how people respond to evidence of social inequalities in educational

attainment and other outcomes. The research comprised five

deliberative focus groups (with eight participants each) and three fullday

deliberative workshops (with 16 participants each), carried out in

four cities across the UK: London, Bristol, Sheffield and Glasgow. The

participants for all these groups were aged between 25 and 65, and

drawn from the full range of socio-economic positions, with a broad

range of political affiliation or party identification. (For more detail, see

Bamfield, L. and Horton, T. (2009) Understanding attitudes towards

tackling economic inequality, York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.)

Importantly, children’s family background is seen to make a difference

in education in part because of the educational advantages that

money can buy. In the discussion groups, participants acknowledged


Who cares

the difference that money makes in education, especially in terms of a

“wider choice of schools”, and access to private education, which was

seen as offering “better teachers”, “smaller class sizes”, and “better

behaviour” in the classroom. There was a perception that it is easier for

more affluent parents to encourage their children’s talent because they

have the financial means to do so. As participants put it, “money gives

you more choices” and “more options”, as well as providing the right

“contacts” and opportunities for “social networking”.

The impact of unequal resources is perceived to fall both on the opportunities

that children have available and the outcomes they are likely to

achieve. As one participant said, if you have two children who are

equally talented but from different economic backgrounds then it will

be much easier for the child from a wealthier background to be

“nurtured” and therefore “progress”.

But while money is associated with greater advantages in education,

not all the differences in opportunity are perceived to be financial.

Perhaps the strongest determinant of children’s success, both in education

and in life more generally, was seen as the unequal nature of

parental support, time and engagement in their children’s education. In

the discussion groups, attitudes tended to vary between more judgemental

comments, which blamed parents in low socio-economic groups

for not making time to support their children, to more empathetic

views, which recognised the greater pressures facing families on lower

income that might then detract from parents’ time and ability to support

their children.

Concern about barriers and disadvantages in

education

There was also concern about the barriers that lack of money can

create in education and awareness of the educational disadvantages

faced by pupils and schools in more deprived areas. Participants

referred to problems such as more challenging pupil behaviour and

39


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

poor discipline, as well as greater difficulties in recruiting and

retraining experienced teachers. Evidence presented to the groups on

the higher rates of teacher turnover in more deprived areas accorded

with their personal experience.

Lack of money was seen to be a particular disadvantage when it

comes to higher education. The costs of university, both tuition fees and

living costs, were seen as preventing young people from lower-income

families from continuing in education. There was also awareness, especially

amongst participants who were themselves from more disadvantaged

backgrounds, of the ‘opportunity costs’ of continuing in full-time

education for lower-income students, as these young people were seen

as facing greater pressure to enter employment rather than pursue

further training or education.

Public support for addressing the gap in resources

In general, there was a broad consensus across our discussion groups

about differences in educational experiences and opportunities in

Britain today.

With regard to the fair distribution of school funding, there was a clear

sense across all the discussion groups that school resources should be

distributed in part according to need, with greater resources targeted at

more deprived areas. Importantly, attitudes towards progressive

spending went further than merely general expressions of support:

evidence from both the discussion groups and our own survey suggest

that people are willing to see extra resources allocated to disadvantaged

children, even if it means fewer resources being available for ‘people

like themselves’.

Asked how the money should be divided between three imaginary

schools, many participants initially reached instinctively for norms of

equality, calling for identical treatment for all schools and pupils:

Shouldn’t it all be standardised They should all get the same

money. They’re all the same as they walk through the door.

40


Who cares

(Male, Bristol)

I think it’s got to be the same for all. I mean, teachers are

paid the same whatever school they’re in. (Female, Bristol)

You see initially I thought that, they should all get the same

money. (Female, Glasgow).

As the discussions progressed however, there was recognition and

general agreement that the local area, capacities, and intake of the

school should be taken into account when distributing resources.

Thus, an instinctive view of fairness expressed in terms of strict

equality or identical treatment developed into the idea that fairness

would require additional spending for some pupils, based on educational

need:

I think every school should have the same straightforward

budget, and then, you look at the factors, and add on

modules, responding to those factors (Male, Bristol).

Yes, yes (Male and female, Bristol).

This basic formula, consisting of a standard amount of money for every

pupil, with extra funding for schools in more difficult circumstances on

the basis of need, was consistently seen as fair across each of the discussion

groups. This conclusion was also backed up by our polling,

conducted in 2009: 50 per cent of poll respondents supported “offering

higher pay to more experienced teachers to work in the most challenging

and difficult schools” (with 28 per cent opposed), even when it

meant that ‘less money is available for schools in less deprived areas’.

To explore the depth of this commitment further, participants were

also asked about the fair allocation of resources within a school and

which pupils should receive additional learning support. Asked who

‘deserved’ the extra support, participants generally thought that any

41


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

additional resources should be spent helping those who need it the most

rather than awarding it to the most talented. As participants expressed

it, additional spending on learning support should “go towards those of

lower ability to bring them up to the level” and to “help those who are

less fortunate”. Some participants described this as a moral decision, “a

gut reaction, morally”.

A few participants expressed concern that teachers’ time and attention

can be concentrated on disruptive pupils at the expense of others in the

class. But for the most part participants recognised the benefits for all

pupils, including their own children, if dedicated support was given to

pupils with behavioural problems.

Many participants thought that ‘bright’ children “should be alright on

their own”, so did not require special resources, though there was also

a sense from some participants that “it would be nice to nurture ones

who could be high flyers”. Among participants from lower socioeconomic

groups in particular, there was also recognition of the barriers

that might prevent children from more disadvantaged backgrounds

from being ‘high flyers’.

Our poll data shows that this support for needs-based spending, with

greater resources targeted at more deprived areas, extends to public

spending on the early years. Some 47 per cent supported the idea of

providing ‘intensive support and advice to the most disadvantaged new

parents, with home visits by specially trained nurses’ (with 25 per cent

opposed), even when it meant ‘fewer health visitors are available for

other families’. (This support increased to 60 per cent, with 15 per cent

opposed, when evidence from the US on the effectiveness of such interventions

was mentioned prior to the question.) People are convinced

not only by the ‘business’ case for early intervention – the argument that

‘prevention is better than cure’ – but also by the moral argument for

early intervention.

It seems, then, that people do care about disadvantage and unequal

chances in education, not just in a general or abstract way, but to the

extent of being willing to see more public money and resources going to

42


Who cares

support children and infants from less advantaged backgrounds, even

when it means fewer resources for ‘people like them’.

More ambivalent attitudes about fair processes

and structures

While people are quite happy with allocating educational budgets with

reference to pupil needs, public attitudes are more ambivalent when it

comes to allocating places at schools and universities.

In the first instance, when asked about fair access to the most popular

schools, there is a clear and widespread view that current arrangements

are skewed unfairly in favour of more affluent or capable families. In the

discussion groups, many aspects of existing admissions systems were

seen as unfairly benefiting parents “who shout the loudest” or have

greatest resources. Allocating school places according to geographical

location was seen as benefiting those who can afford to live in the most

sought after areas, while participants spontaneously brought up examples

of parents who “play” or “cheat” the admissions system, for

example by moving house or lying about their address on applications.

At the same time, however, participants were generally unwilling to

condemn parents, even when they go to such lengths to secure a place

at their preferred school. Some participants excused behaviour such as

lying about information on application forms on the grounds that “it’s

up to you, if you want to do that much for your child” (Female,

Glasgow). Across the groups, there was a strong theme that parents who

seek out educational advantages for their children are “just doing the

best for their kids”. As one participant expressed it: “basically you do

whatever’s best for your kids, don’t you, I suppose” (Male, Bristol).

Thus, while aspects of the system are seen as unfair in creating

different opportunities and outcomes, the individuals concerned are not

felt to be to blame for taking advantage of those opportunities where

they exist.

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

In the main, although people are dissatisfied with the existing system,

they are yet to be convinced by the case for alternative ways of allocating

places, which are seen as creating different problems and disadvantages.

Survey data provides some evidence of public support for the

principle of ‘fair access’ – and a preference for ‘fair access’ over

‘maximum choice’ or ‘institutional diversity’. But beyond this, specific

proposals on changing the admissions system are strongly contested –

as demonstrated by the hostile reaction of many local parents to the

introduction of lottery allocation procedures in areas such as Brighton

and Hove. This ambivalence was evidence in the discussion groups,

where although there was general support for tightening the school

admissions code, even here there was controversy around how far local

authorities should actively police the rules around fair admissions.

Views on the fairness of selective schooling

Participants in the discussion groups were divided in their views of

selective schooling. Some participants were firmly opposed to academic

selection at age eleven, pointing to the negative consequences for children

on the receiving end, and the “feelings of worthlessness” such

systems can engender. Other participants defended selection, arguing

that “some sort of system such as the 11-plus” may be suitable for

”sorting out gifted people”.

Survey data confirms this mixed picture: surveys reveal that roughly

half of the public support a mixed comprehensive and grammar school

system, with a slightly higher preference expressed by people in social

classes ABC1 (54 per cent) than C2DE (43 per cent). As we might expect,

greater divergence exists amongst people of different political persuasions:

almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of Conservatives compared to

just one third of Labour supporters (30 per cent to 39 per cent) are in

favour of admissions via formal selection.

What lies behind these views One theoary is that the level of support

for grammar schools seems to accord with people’s appraisal of the

44


Who cares

benefits of such a system for their own families: roughly the same

proportion of respondents support a grammar school system (49 per

cent) as think that a mixed comprehensive and grammar school system

is best for school children in families like their own (48 per cent). If

correct, then given that a much smaller proportion (usually one fifth) of

children are actually admitted to grammar schools in practice, this

suggests that those in favour of a grammar system tend to overestimate

their own child’s chances of being selected – and raises the question as

to whether people would be less supportive if they knew what the

actual chances were.

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that people’s views are

motivated solely or even predominantly by self-interest. Public support

may also reflect a commonly held view that grammar schools work to the

benefit of children from poorer backgrounds. In the discussion groups,

some participants defended academic selection on these grounds, saying

that processes such as the eleven plus were a potentially useful way of

locating and helping students from poorer backgrounds who have the

potential to be ‘high flyers’. In this regard, some participants expressed a

classic meritocratic position, viewing academic selection as preferable to

systems based on private education, since it is seen as fairer to allocate

places according to merit than according to wealth.

In the case of university places, however, many people regard a

results-based admissions process, based on interviews and exam

performance, as the fairest way of determining places. Even though

there is wide recognition that individuals from more affluent backgrounds

have more advantages in education than others, people do not

generally think that family background should be taken into account in

university admissions processes. Not all subscribe to this view: some

people think that it is fair to take account of early educational experiences.

But in the main, the dominant view is that students who achieve

the best results deserve a place at the top institutions, because they have

demonstrated their suitability for those places.

45


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

Summary: support for compensation but

ambivalence about reform of admissions

In summary, we have seen that people’s views about fairness in education

are characterised by a degree of ambivalence: although people are

often uneasy about aspects of the system, they may still be inclined to

defend it or be resistant to change. Thus, while our analysis of public

attitudes has indicated a general and widespread willingness to

compensate for disadvantage, we have also seen that people are generally

cautious about changes which would mean taking advantages

away from those who have them.

Importantly, it would be wrong to dismiss resistance to reform as

simply self-interested. We need to understand why so many individuals

and groups who are disadvantaged by the current system are still

willing to uphold it and why changes in the interest of pursuing greater

equality are often seen as more unfair than the status quo.

Drivers of public attitudes: belief in the availability

of opportunity

In some cases, people display a degree of fatalism or inevitability,

expressing a belief that the system is impervious to change. In other

cases, they are aware of problems with the current system but are

unpersuaded by any of the possible alternatives.

46

Above all, however, resistance to reform often stems from a belief that

even if opportunities are not strictly equal, there is enough opportunity

available in the current system to make it justifiable. As we have argued

elsewhere, an important driver of public attitudes towards fairness in

the allocation of welfare and public services is a belief in the ready availability

of opportunity – not a belief that opportunities are strictly equal,

but that there is enough opportunity for individuals to get on in life if

they really want to. 60 Partly this is because people have a strong

tendency to avoid comparing themselves with those in more advantaged

positions. As Lane’s classic 1959 study of attitudes to equality


Who cares

observes, ‘A person who can improve his position one rung does not

resent the man who starts on a different ladder half way up’. 61

As we argue further in the final chapter below, these findings have

implications for the political arguments that are likely to be persuasive

in making the case for educational reform. While egalitarians may be

convinced of the case for action, simply having a ‘say it louder’ version

of traditional egalitarian arguments won’t achieve this.

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

48


4 | Learning the lessons for politics

and policy

The new Coalition Government has said it will place fairness and

social justice at the heart of its agenda for government. The

Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has unveiled a

series of reforms with the express intention of helping improve

outcomes for disadvantaged groups. But to what extent do the headline

policy proposals – the new Pupil Premium, the expansion of the

Academies programme and the introduction of new ‘free schools’,

alongside the ‘refocusing’ of Sure Start children’s centres – pass the most

basic of fairness tests, to narrow the gaps in pupil attainment and participation

In this chapter, we apply the fairness tests set out earlier to assess the

new Government’s headline education policies. We also look more

widely at some important reforms for narrowing the gap in both experiences

and attainment at different stages of the education system,

drawing on the analysis of previous chapters.

The priority for progressive campaigners in coming months will be to

defend and protect public funding for key areas of education policy in

the upcoming spending review. To name just one example, recent cuts

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

to the Building Schools for the Future programme are a particular

concern, since ensuring high-quality facilities for all is a central element

in reducing inequalities in educational experiences and in improving

the social image of all schools.

But while we need to be realistic about what can be achieved in the

short- to medium-term, it is also crucial to keep a sense of what is

needed beyond the immediate constraints of the current fiscal climate.

Looking ahead, we need to think more ambitiously and imaginatively

about what can be achieved in tackling educational inequality. An

agenda for change is needed for the next thirty years, not just for the

five-year period of this Parliament.

An uneasy relationship between ‘standards’, inclusion,

diversity and choice: Labour’s education policy 1997 to 2010

Whereas Tony Blair famously declared back in 1996 that

Labour’s top three priorities in office would be “Education,

Education, Education”, in the event, the focus of Labour’s

education policy was predominantly on “Standards,

Standards, Standards”.

In Labour’s first term, the standards agenda was pursued

most assiduously in relation to primary schools, with new

initiatives to improve the quality of teaching and learning in

literacy and numeracy and to reduce class sizes for children

up to age seven. 62 Drawing on the recommendations of

Michael Barber’s Literacy Task Force, 63

the Labour government

introduced the daily literacy hour in 1998, part of a

new National Literacy Strategy. 64

After a significant increase

in central government control of the curriculum under the

previous Conservative government, the new national strategies

for literacy and numeracy signalled that greater control

was now to be exerted not just over what was taught in the

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

classroom, but also how it was to be taught. 65

In addition to the national strategies, the Government

sought to improve levels of pupil attainment and school

performance by extending the national system of assessment,

with increased testing of pupils at key stages one and

two. In accordance with previous policy, public comparisons

of school performance, through devices such as league

tables, were intended to improve ‘standards’ by providing

schools with an incentive to better their positions.

Labour’s second term in office from 2001 saw the re-emergence

of the ‘choice and diversity’ agenda previously initiated

under the Conservatives in the early 1990s, which

encouraged schools ‘to differentiate themselves according to

their individual ethos, special character and areas of

specialist expertise’. 66

The emphasis on diversity led to a

whole raft of new school types – various Specialist schools,

Foundation schools and Beacon schools, along with

Academies and Trust schools – all intended to increase the

institutional choice available to parents and pupils.

School diversification was encouraged and promoted by

much greater investment in school renovation and capital

building projects through the Building Schools for the

Future programme, as well as overall increases in levels of

school funding. To promote the efficient and effective use of

resources, central government deployed a raft of performance

measures, targets and indicators, as well as utilising the

system of inspection and regulation, and, as a last resort,

intervention in ‘failing’ services.

Labour’s schools policy therefore relied on two main

mechanisms to promote schools’ performance and to incentivise

improvements in educational attainment: first, the

continued use of market (or quasi-market) mechanisms

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

designed to promote parental choice and school competition

and so raise ‘standards’; and, second, the more extensive

use of ‘top-down performance management’ as a tool

for monitoring and directing education practice.

Both types of approach were subject to significant levels

of criticism. First, critics on the left reiterated longstanding

concerns about the stratifying and segregating

effects of choice- and competition-based policies. In their

view, an inherent contradiction exists between ‘choice’ and

‘equality of opportunity’, since greater market forces in

education result in schools choosing pupils rather than

pupils choosing schools. Second, critics warned that the

increased use of centrally-imposed performance measures

and targets creates perverse incentives and distorting and

unintended effects on school practice

In the event, both types of criticism were born out by

empirical evidence. For example, case studies and quantitative

research demonstrates that school choice policies,

combined with league table competition, have placed

special needs pupils, pupils from ethnic minorities and

those from lower-income backgrounds at a disadvantage

as compared to their peers. 67

These concerns came to a head following the publication

of the 2005 Schools White Paper: ‘Higher Standards, Better

Schools for all’ and during the passage of the 2006

Education and Inspections Act, which set out plans for the

introduction of new Trust Schools, to be awarded greater

independence from local authorities and powers to exercise

greater autonomy over the curriculum. These debates

are instructive for our purposes, because they foreshadow

debates that are likely to accompany the passage of new

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

legislation under the Coalition Government to usher in a

new generation of ‘free schools’.

The ‘standards’ agenda, based on improving school and

pupil performance, which had been such a strong feature of

Conservative education policy between 1979 and 1997,

continued to dominate Labour’s education policy from 1997

to 2010. And yet, under Labour there were also more

concerted attempts to marry the drive to improve ‘standards’

with new efforts to promote social and educational

inclusion.

From the outset, while the principal focus was on raising

general levels of attainment, Labour’s education policy also

included measures aimed at narrowing the education gaps,

by tackling the low levels of attainment concentrated in the

most deprived areas and schools, including large increases

in disadvantage-related funding. As part of its ‘social exclusion’

agenda, Labour’s first term saw a flurry of activity,

with a range of programmes – such as Education Action

Zones and the Excellence in Cities programme – targeting

specific areas with additional funding. These programmes

aimed to encourage the inclusion of pupils in schemes such

as breakfast and homework clubs, in order to motivate

pupils and improve attitudes to school activities and

learning. Evaluations reported an observed decrease in

permanent exclusions in the respective schools, but little or

no effect on the levels of attendance overall. Improved standards

in test scores were observed at Key Stage 1 but little

improvement was seen at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3. In

general, the programmes went some way to encouraging

inclusion but made only small improvements to standards

as a whole.

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

While these area-based initiatives contributed to a slight

narrowing of the attainment gap by 2001, research showed

that there was still a significant disparity in the performance

of pupils from ‘high’ and ‘low’ income schools (defined

according to the percentage of pupils who qualified for free

school meals). In 2001, pupils from higher socio-economic

backgrounds were still more than twice as likely to achieve

five or more A-C grades as pupils from routine occupation

backgrounds. As a group, pupils eligible for free school

meals were still performing notably worse than other pupils

at Key Stage 3, and were far more likely to leave school

without any GCSE passes. So despite some good progress,

Labour needed to be far more ambitious.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Labour’s inclusion

agenda was its vision for early years education and childcare,

based on a network of children’s centres, offering a

safe, enriching and nurturing environment for children to

play in and interact socially, combined with a wide range of

services and support for families. In practice, although the

vision of a universal early years service was widely

supported by the children’s sector and by experts in early

years development, 68

the promise has yet to be fully

realised.

There was also increased support for the most disadvantaged

groups of children and young people, for example

through the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant, and intensive

courses for children of asylum-seekers and refugees,

while the Children’s Fund was created to help prevent children

from falling into drug abuse, truancy, exclusion, unemployment

and crime, by paying for services such as

mentoring programmes, parenting education and support,

counselling and advice.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

However, despite the additional resources directed at

schools and children’s services in deprived areas, it also

became apparent that additional funding was not reaching

disadvantaged schools and pupils in full – in part because

local authorities continued to allocate resources on a

historical basis rather than on the basis of need.

A broader and more inclusive education: making every

child matter

A more significant departure from the ‘standards’ agenda

came half way through Labour’s second term, with the

emphasis on general well-being and a broader and more

inclusive education in the 2003 Green Paper: ‘Every Child

Matters’. This stressed the importance for every child,

whatever their background or their circumstances, to have

the support they need to be healthy and safe, achieve and

make a positive contribution. A priority was made to identify

children and young people at risk of social exclusion

or harm at an early stage and to make sure they receive

the help and support they need to achieve their potential.

The ‘Youth Matters’ 2005 Green paper developed this

approach and extended the Every Child Matters agenda

up the age range. ‘Youth Matters’ set a new target for all

young people to ‘have access to a variety of activities

beyond the school day’ by 2010. The aims were to provide

access to sporting and other constructive activities in

clubs, youth groups and classes, and to provide children

with opportunities to make a positive contribution to their

community through volunteer work. Further plans were

outlined to establish local youth support teams, focused

on preventative work and early intervention with targeted

individuals, and to introduce a system of ‘lead profes-

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

sionals’ to ensure that every young person who needs

support has someone to ‘take care’ of their interests.

Despite these efforts, there was little sign that the links

between family background and educational attainment

were closing by the end of Labour’s second term in office.

Research showed that by 2005 there was an even stronger

correlation between income and educational attainment,

with children from higher-income families experiencing

greater increases in attainment relative to children from

lower-income families.

Narrowing the gaps: a more explicit focus on breaking the

links between family background and pupil outcomes

Labour’s third term brought more explicit recognition of the

need to narrow education gaps between advantaged and

disadvantaged pupils, first by Education Secretary Alan

Johnson, and then by the Secretary of State for Children,

Schools and Families, Ed Balls. Importantly, the introduction

of new ‘gap’ targets in education signalled Labour’s recognition

that the existing ‘floor’ targets had had unintended

effects in practice. Alongside the new targets for narrowing

the gaps in pupil attainment between children eligible for

Free School Meals (FSM) and their peers, the Labour

Government set out a range of measures designed to

‘narrow the gap’ in educational outcomes through targeting

resources more effectively towards disadvantaged students,

including: better tracking of pupils’ progress in the early

years foundation stage; intensive learning support for children

who start to fall behind; and efforts to widen participation,

especially through raising the participation age to 18 by

2015. These efforts also included extra support through

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

information, advice and promoting positive role models. 69

Alongside policies to narrow the gaps in formal qualifications,

there was also a welcome and important focus on

narrowing the gap in educational experiences and opportunities,

through extended school services, broadening the

curriculum, and improving non-formal learning in a range

of settings. 70

Finally, Labour also set out new plans to increase participation

in education beyond the age of 16, building on the

Educational Maintenance Allowance. By setting out plans

for the Raising of Participation Age to 18, Labour Ministers

were finally realising the original intention of Rab Butler,

architect of the 1944 Education Act, to create an entitlement

to all young people to continue in education and training

until age 18.

1. A fair start Transforming learning

opportunities in the early years

Where now for the early years agenda Under the previous government,

investment in the early years was a major plank of Labour policy,

heralded as the new ”frontier of the welfare state” by successive ministers.

71 At a time when some commentators on the right of the political

spectrum are clamouring to dismantle the welfare state, what is the

prognosis for early years education and childcare – is it a case of last in,

first out

Importantly, the new Coalition Government seems convinced of the

case for providing the right support for children and families during the

critical first few years of life. Just as Labour ministers were persuaded

by the wealth of research evidence about the importance of public

investment in early years provision, new ministers also now subscribe

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

to the importance of early intervention as the fairest and most effective

way of helping improve the outcomes of children, especially those from

more disadvantaged backgrounds. 72

However, some in the Coalition Government have hitherto been less

firmly attached to a model of formal, centre-based early years learning

and childcare than the previous government were. Under the terms of

the Coalition Agreement, the new Government is committed to taking

Sure Start ‘back to its original purpose of early intervention and increase

its focus on the neediest families’ and has pledged to shift funding from

Sure Start peripatetic outreach services to pay for extra Health Visitors. 73

Reaching the most disadvantaged groups

Labour’s efforts whilst in government had started to transform provision

for early years education and childcare. At the outset, the development

of new Sure Start Children’s Centres was concentrated in areas of

greatest deprivation, with the first centres originally opening in the

most deprived 88 wards in the country. Since then, the service has

expanded to achieve the goal of having a centre in every community in

the country: by the time the Labour Government left office in May 2010,

over 3,500 Children’s Centres had been opened nationally. So important

steps had been taken to achieve Labour’s vision of a universal early

years service – one which is widely supported by the children’s sector

and by experts in early years development. 74

What is precisely meant by the new Coalition Government’s pledge to

‘refocus’ Sure Start back to its original purpose is unclear. From the

outset, Sure Start centres have been committed to welcoming all families,

while providing additional help for those with the highest needs

and practitioners show a high commitment to this aim. 75 In addition,

evidence from the national evaluation indicates that all groups are

represented equally in the first phase of centres, located in the most

disadvantaged areas, and that all groups are benefiting equally from the

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

services available. 76 Therefore, it is not the case that Sure Start centres

have been dominated by middle class families, as has been claimed. 77

But there is certainly more to do to improve outreach to the most

disadvantaged families. As recent reviews of provision undertaken by

Ofsted, the Audit Commission and the Select Committee for Children,

Schools and Families have highlighted, children’s centres continue to

face challenges in engaging the most vulnerable groups, such as teenage

parents and parents with a substance abuse problem. 78

Here, there is a danger that taking funding away from outreach services

to pay for new health visitors, as the Government had formally

pledged, will mean that health visitors carry all the burdens of coordinating

outreach activities with other sectors. This would be a mistake,

since evaluations to date have highlighted the need to ensure that children’s

centres are properly linked with all sectors: housing, social services

and adult specialist services in health and employment, as well as

primary schools and parent support advisors. Cutting the outreach

function from children’s centres would carry the risk that health visitors

would quickly become overburdened – and means that centres could

become even less able to reach the neediest families than at present.

There is a broader concern that the pledge to ‘refocus’ Sure Start

either means scaling back the services on offer (for example, by

reducing the Core Offer) or a restriction in the number of centres that

are open (see for example the recent Children, Schools and Families

Select Committee’s report on Sure Start Children’s Centres). On the

one hand, a more targeted service could help ensure that more

resources are focused on the most disadvantaged families; on the

other, it is important to recognise that although the neediest families

tend to be spatially concentrated – with half of ’multiple exclusion’

families living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas – this still leaves

a significant proportion of disadvantaged families located in areas of

lower deprivation. What is more, there are compelling reasons to

uphold a universal service – not only to provide important assistance

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

to middle-income families, but also because a non-stigmatising service

is likely to be more effective at bringing in the neediest families; and

because the broader social mix in children’s centres means that children

from more disadvantaged families are able to benefit from social

interaction with a wider cross section of their peers. 79

In conclusion, a network of children’s centres should be retained at

the heart of the early years strategy, based on a vision of achieving a

truly universal service with benefits for children and adults alike. In

terms of the priorities for early years policy over the short, medium- and

longer-term, we make the following points:

• Cutting funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres, or shifting

financial support to more informal provision, would risk harming

outcomes for children from lower socio-economic groups, who

research demonstrates have most to gain from the cognitive effects

of high quality early years education. In the current financial

climate, the most immediate priority will therefore be simply to

protect existing funding for early years education at the next

spending review, and in particular to protect funding for outreach

services in their own right.

• In the future, the priority will be to embed good practice and

ensure that the full value of investment is realised. Parts of the

sector are still relatively new and inexperienced, and need further

support to develop capacity to plan, measure and improve their

impact for families with high needs. Ultimately, achieving high

quality provision for all children and a service that promotes

employment will require investment in both a highly-trained,

professional workforce and a service that is free or heavily

subsidised at the point of use, available and accessible to all. This

requires a change to simplify the funding arrangements, which are

overly complex and confusing. One option would be to make

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

funding go to children’s centres rather than qualifying parents, to

achieve more stability in places (and so reduce the ‘churn’ that

comes from demand-side funding).

• Furthermore, having recognised the importance and persuasiveness

of ‘invest to save’ arguments, the government now needs to

learn a second key lesson about what is essential for sustaining

progress over time. Investing in the 0-3 age group is certainly vital,

and helps make up for decades of neglect and under-investment in

early years provision. But without following up this focus during

primary schooling, the evidence shows that those important initial

gains in cognitive development will be lost. A high quality service

needs to be fully integrated within wider children’s services, with

early years educators working closely with their counterparts in

family services, health and social services and local primary

schools. In addition, centres must be properly integrated with

adult services, so that parents and other family members,

including grandparents, can access a full range of support, information

and advice services via children’s centres.

• Over the longer term, giving every child the best start in life means

investing in improving the pay, training and experience of the

early years workforce. Achieving the goal of a universal early

years service will require a higher proportion of government

funding for the under-fives to subsidise costs. Under Labour,

expenditure on early years and childcare more than doubled to

approximately 0.7 per cent of GDP, but this is still far below the

one per cent of GDP that the OECD sets as a benchmark for the

minimum level of public funding needed on early childhood

education and care. Although the current fiscal climate may well

preclude any immediate expansion of the early years service, there

is no reason to abandon the goal of a universal early years service.

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

In the coming years, it will be crucial to reach the level of one per

cent of GDP as soon as economically viable.

2. Preventing the gaps widening in compulsory

education

As set out above, in its last term in office the Labour Government set out

a range of measures designed to ‘narrow the gap’ in educational

outcomes not only through targeting resources more effectively towards

disadvantaged students (for example, with intensive learning support

for children who start to fall behind) but also through information,

advice and promoting positive role models. 80

Alongside policies to

narrow gaps in formal qualifications, there was also a welcome and

important focus on narrowing the gap in educational experiences and

opportunities, through extended school services, broadening the

curriculum, improving non-formal learning in a range of settings, and

plans for raising the Participation Age to age 18 in the coming years.

These policies represent important steps towards achieving fairer

outcomes for all, by helping to compensate for early disadvantage and

by redistributing resources towards children from deprived areas and

disadvantaged backgrounds. Over coming months, it will be important

that the Coalition Government does not lose momentum in these areas,

especially given pressures to cut spending. But it is also important to

recognise the slow progress that is being made in closing gaps in attainment

and participation, and the need to go further. In the future, a more

ambitious and far-reaching strategy is needed to address long-standing

inequalities, and to ensure that the system of schooling passes the most

basic of fairness tests – to prevent gaps widening during compulsory

education.

How well, then, do the new Coalition Government’s headline education

policies measure up Here we look at some of their proposals that

pass the ‘fairness test’ and others that clearly fail.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

The Pupil Premium and investment in teacher quality

Prominent amongst the new proposals is the introduction of a Pupil

Premium. Building on large increases in disadvantage-related school

funding under the previous Labour Government, this will provide additional

funding specially targeted at disadvantaged pupils, paid direct to

schools, with the express purpose of boosting their attainment and so

helping to narrow the sizeable gaps that remain.

At a time of considerable fiscal constraint, this commitment to secure

additional funding for disadvantaged pupils is therefore extremely

welcome. It should help to create a more responsive system, providing

incentives for schools to recruit pupils from disadvantaged areas. And

paying the premium directly to schools may help in correcting the

‘glitch’ in the system that tends to prevent local authorities from passing

on all deprivation funding to schools – especially due to measures introduced

after the school funding “crisis” in 2003/04 (like the Minimum

Funding Guarantee, by which local authorities were required to adhere

to historical funding levels for schools). 81

Importantly, increasing funding for disadvantaged pupils is also in

tune with public beliefs about fairness in education: as we saw in the

previous chapter, there is strong public support for a progressive use of

resources in schools to meet the additional learning needs of children

from deprived backgrounds.

• However, the question remains as to how these additional school

resources can best be deployed. Under current plans, it will be for

schools to decide how best to use the funding for the benefit of

their deprived pupils – part of the new administration’s intention

to cut central prescription and increase freedom and flexibility for

local providers. But there is no guarantee that every school will

know how best to use these additional resources – or that they will

reach the most disadvantaged pupils. So the Government should

instead undertake to provide schools with the right support and

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

guidance to ensure that additional resources are used effectively.

An immediate priority for the Coalition Government is therefore

to conduct a review of the most effective ‘gap narrowing’ activities

for schools, both to prevent underachievement from the outset,

and to ensure that initial gains already achieved through early

years learning are sustained. Without this, the risk is that some

schools will not use extra resources in an optimum way and the

attainment gaps will not be closed. It is also important to ensure

there are mechanisms in place to ensure that schools are accountable

for spending the extra resources effectively.

The Coalition Government has also pledged to “improve the quality of

the teaching profession by supporting Teach First and creating Teach

Now; and reform national pay and conditions rules to give schools

greater freedoms to pay good teachers more and deal with poor

performance”. Again, this is a welcome priority, since research demonstrates

that nothing is more important for determining pupil outcomes

than the quality of teaching. A key part of ensuring a fair funding

system is ensuring that schools with a challenging pupil intake are able

to provide incentives (including higher salaries) to recruit and retain the

most talented, energetic and committed teachers.

In particular, it is significant that the Teach First mission statement is

‘to close the achievement gap by helping top graduates become excellent

teachers in challenged schools, committed to leading in their

classrooms and overcoming the obstacles of deprivation in order to

increase access, achievement and aspirations for the thousands of

young people that lack the opportunities that many others take for

granted’. 83

An expansion of the current programme, which recruits

and trains 500-600 of the best graduates each year, as well as the

creation of an equivalent programme for established professionals

looking to make a career change into teaching, therefore promises

important benefits for many disadvantaged young people.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

• Support for these programmes, though very welcome, is not sufficient,

however. First, it also matters how teachers are deployed both

between and within schools. So in taking forward the commitments

in the Coalition Agreement, the Government therefore needs to

commit to addressing the deployment of teachers more generally.

Studies of successful schools also demonstrate the importance of

stable staffing. 85 Yet, as we saw in Chapter 1, staff turnover is typically

higher in more challenging schools. Measures are therefore

needed not only to attract and recruit excellent new teaching staff,

but also to provide the necessary support for classroom teachers to

ensure they retain that commitment and enthusiasm.

The hidden costs of education

Other Government proposals, however, do not fare so well in evaluating

how they will impact on educational inequality.

Children speaking first hand about their experiences of schooling

point to four main areas where lack of income creates material disadvantage

and deprivation: (i) having difficulty affording essential items

for school such as books or course materials (as well as desirable additional

items such as revision guides); (ii) being unable to afford the

school uniform; (iii) being unable to afford additional learning activities

such as school trips; and (iv) the ‘embarrassment of receiving free school

meals’ (Ridge 2009, p. 40). 86 Here, there is a concern that, at the same

time as allocating additional funding via the pupil premium, the

Coalition Government is also considering actions that will exacerbate

rather than reduce the ‘hidden’ costs of education. 87

• As with early years policy, there is a real risk that programmes of

particular importance for disadvantaged children will suffer from

spending cuts or retrenchment. A prime candidate here is the

extended schools programme, which seeks to broaden the

curriculum and wider learning opportunities of children and

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

young people, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Given the importance of extra-curricular activity for

developing a wider set of skills and capacities, fostering confidence

and independence, and promoting social interaction, it is

therefore vital for government to protect funding in this area.

Failure to do so risks widening inequalities in access to enriching

learning activities.

• Action is also needed to stop schools (often unwittingly)

contributing to children’s feelings of embarrassment through the

administration of free school meals. The most beneficial way to

remove this burden would be to extend the entitlement to free

school meals to all children, building on pilots in England and the

commitment to extend free school meals in Scotland. It is therefore

disappointing that the Coalition Government has already reversed

the planned extension of free school meals to families on the full

entitlement of tax credits. Not only would this have removed

stigma sometimes attached to receiving free school meals, and in

turn promote higher take-up, but it would also have addressed the

work disincentives for parents moving from out-of-work benefits

into work, who then lose their entitlement to free school meals. 88

The extension of the entitlement to free school meals might not

necessarily be the top priority for new spending in the current

fiscal climate. But given the triple benefits of universal free school

meals – for children’s health, reducing stigma and removing disincentives

for parents to move into work – this remains an important

goal for a better education system, as well as an important part of

a strategy for tackling wider economic inequalities in society.

School meals are one aspect of the ‘hidden costs’ of education,

reminding us of the ways in which education policy must be sensitive

to broader problems of income poverty and inequality.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

A divided system Assessing plans for school reform

Alongside the pupil premium, other central planks of the new

Government’s education policy include the expansion of the Academies

programme and the introduction of new ‘free schools’. Both reforms are

explicitly intended to create a more diversified schools system, based

around the themes of greater school autonomy, freedom from local

authority control and measures to increase the supply of places to allow

for more choice and diversity in provision.

As summarised earlier, the re-emergence of the ‘choice and diversity’

agenda under Labour led to a whole raft of new school types –

including various Specialist schools, Foundation schools and Beacon

schools, along with Academies and Trust schools – all intended to

increase the institutional choice available to parents and pupils. In this

sense, the Conservatives have positioned themselves as being the ‘heir

to Blair’ – recalling their decision to side with the former Labour prime

minister in the heated and contested debates around the 2005 Schools

White Paper and the passage of the 2006 Education Act. More broadly,

proposals for an expansion of the Academies programme and creation

of new ‘free schools’ signal a return to the ‘parentocracy’ ideal of the

early nineties. 89

However, as discussed in Chapter 2, critics of the ‘choice and diversity’

agenda express concerns about the divisive effects of such policies

– especially regarding the differential capabilities parents and pupils

have to take advantage of such systems, and the consequences of this for

their opportunities to access the most successful schools.

Before turning to the policies themselves, we would note a couple of

points:

First, the new Government’s rhetoric around ‘setting schools free’

does not necessarily match the reality. Looking at the percentage of decisions

taken at local and school level, England has the second most

devolved system amongst OECD countries after Finland, while English

schools actually enjoy greater autonomy than in any other OECD

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

country apart from the Netherlands. 90

It is therefore misleading to

describe English schools as being encumbered by bureaucratic ‘red tape’

and local authority control.

Second, it is impossible to ignore a contradiction at the heart of the

Coalition Government’s position, which is to want less government

control and allow greater local discretion and autonomy, on the one

hand, and yet at the same time to want a return to a more restricted

version of teaching in the classroom and more prescribed behaviour

management in schools, on the other. As Fraser Nelson of the Spectator

recently observed, this inherent inconsistency creates a ‘paradox’ for

David Cameron: “if they [schools] were independent, as he proposes,

they would be listening to parents, not the likes of him”.

This contradiction raises a deeper question about the Government’s

reform agenda: what are these principles of independence, diversity

and choice actually for Are they driven by valuing principles like

‘choice’ as an end in themselves, or are they motivated by the consequences

that the application of such principles are assumed to have

As argued above, it is important to have an open mind about such

policies. Whether or not one subscribes to the intrinsic value of choice,

there could be instrumental reasons for proposing a system based on

choice and institutional diversity that deserve proper scrutiny and

consideration – for example, seeing competition as an efficient way to

improve standards.

However, unless the motivation of this approach is purely ideological

– which its proponents insist it is not – then the Government must be

prepared to review the impact of these changes on issues such as fairness

and equality, and to constrain their reforms if they would impact

adversely here. So the key question is what the effect of the proposals

will actually be.

Who will benefit most from the Government’s intention to broaden

the Academies programme to allow all maintained schools to apply –

and, for the first time, to allow primary schools and special schools to

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

be included in the programme While the Government’s insistence

that new Academies must follow “an inclusive admissions policy” is

clearly important, it is doubtful that it will primarily benefit disadvantaged

groups.

Certainly, the 200 or so existing Academies serve some of the most

deprived communities in the country: NFER research shows that

existing Academies admit higher proportions of pupils eligible for FSM

and pupils with Special Educational Needs compared to the proportions

living locally, and lower proportions of pupils with higher KS2

ability compared to the proportion living locally.

But the proposal to fast-track schools rated as outstanding will be

bound to benefit a far greater proportion of less disadvantaged schools

– those with below-average FSM intake. According to Ofsted, of 588

maintained primary schools judged outstanding in at least their last two

inspections by July 2008, less than a quarter were relatively challenged

by having a proportion of children eligible for free school meals above

the national average of 16.6 per cent. 91 (And even fewer could be categorised

as having a disadvantaged intake according to a more

demanding range of indicators.) So it seems that the first wave of new

Academies will be concentrated in less deprived areas, serving less

deprived families and children.

There is also real concern about the other aspect of the new

Government’s reform agenda, namely, plans to encourage a new generation

of ‘free schools’. Under the rubric of creating more choice for

parents and ‘freeing schools from local bureaucracy’, the Conservative

manifesto set out plans to create hundreds of new schools based on

“Swedish-style” academies, arguing that this should become the norm

in secondary education. 92

However, there is emerging evidence from Sweden that the introduction

of such schools since the mid-1990s has generated increasing

inequality and segregation, whilst also coinciding with a decline in standards

in key subjects. According to a recent report on the effects of these

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

reforms by the Swedish National Agency for Schools (Skolverket), “In

addition to average grades having worsened in certain regards, the

spread of grade point averages has widened over time…The variation

in results between schools and between various groups of pupils has

become more pronounced. The analyses have also pointed to increasing

differences in grades attained by various groups of pupils (differentiated

by social background, gender, and ethnicity), but most particularly

between groups differentiated by parents’ educational background.” 93

So the system has served to strengthen the link between parental background

and future child outcomes, not loosen it. Another recent report

by the same organisation, found that over two-fifths of municipal heads

of education thought that setting up these schools had increased segregation

within their area, and heads from areas with a high proportion of

pupils in such independent schools were more likely to think this. 94

Importantly, it does not seem as if this increased inequality and segregation

has been offset by rising standards; in fact, these reports also

show that overall standards in key subject areas have declined in

Sweden since the reforms were introduced – particularly in maths and

science, but also in some reading skills too. 95

Given the very different capabilities and resources that parents and

pupils have to take advantage of such policies, the concern is that introducing

a dynamic like this into our already-divided schools system

risks harming the life chances of disadvantaged children over the long

run by increasing and entrenching segregation between different social

groups.

Achieving a greater social and educational mix

In terms of the priorities for school reform in the longer term, then,

we need to recognise that increased funding for disadvantaged

pupils, though welcome, is not enough in itself to deal with some of

the really deep-seated problems of division and segregation within

our school system.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

We contend that it is not good enough just to accept this segregation

and seek to compensate those on the rough end of the deal with more

funding – to be happy to try and improve education for disadvantaged

kids provided they don’t mix with your own. And it is unlikely that

serious progress to narrow the gaps in attainment will be made if policymakers

are simply prepared to accept a significant element of segregation

within the system. Certainly, evidence from the OECD’s 2008

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) demonstrates

the advantages of social and educational mix, as lower performing children

benefit from learning alongside their higher performing peers:

international comparisons point to the lower variance between and

within schools in less socially divided school systems. (Incidentally, this

is not to say that grouping strategies such as setting and streaming, or

making separate provision for those with the most severe learning difficulties,

are necessarily a problem; indeed, they are often an essential

part of educational practice. But, as set out in Chapter 2, where such

strategies are used, the onus is on schools to ensure they do not undermine

a sense of equal treatment and status, and to minimise any detrimental

effects of differentiation, such as stigmatisation.)

So the underlying vision has to be one of greater social and educational

mix. And this means dealing with the aspects of our system that

tend to encourage and maintain this segregation, as well as promoting

more mixed communities outside of the school gates. From a policy

perspective, ‘success’ shouldn’t just be about ‘compensation’ for the

poorest students – through ‘pupil premiums’ and the like – within a

fundamentally unequal system; it has to also involve breaking down

social barriers.

Needless to say, taking action to achieve a greater social mix is far

from easy. One possible response would be to regulate admissions more

tightly or to reduce institutional diversity. But any such proposals

would be politically very challenging: admissions policies remain

extremely contentious, and any changes proposed in a local area, such

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

as the use of banding or lotteries to allocate places, or changes to catchment

areas, are likely to be strongly contested. 97

Imposing sweeping reforms across the whole system in a ‘top-down’

way would be the wrong approach: it would generate huge public

anxiety and would simply not be sustainable if many regard the

outcomes as unfair. Ultimately, we need politically sustainable solutions

to this problem, and this will require building a public consensus

around reforms to create greater social mix in education.

In the conclusion of this report, we briefly outline a longer-term

strategy for building such a public consensus. But in the first instance, it

is worth noting a variety of policy steps that should be taken to achieve

greater mix and produce a fairer system.

The first step is to enforce a fair admissions policy in all schools –

comprehensive, selective, faith-based, and independent alike. This does

not mean that all schools must be forced to adopt the same process of

admission. Nor would re-establishing the neighbourhood school principle

in admissions guarantee that the social divide would lessen; on the

contrary, such a move might have the unintended effect of accelerating

the migration of more well-off families from local areas with a mixed

intake. (As one recent study puts it, “In a situation where the differences

have grown too big, making the choice of school more difficult might

aggravate the differentiation of areas”. 98 )

In fact, the new Government’s pledge to ensure a fair admissions

policy for all new Academies shows what can be done. By insisting on

a fair admission process from the outset, and committing to policing it

thoroughly, ministers appear to have learned lessons from the political

division generated by the 2005 Schools White Paper and subsequent

legislation, when the Tony Blair was forced to concede on the issue of

fair admissions as the price needed to prevent a backbench rebellion

against his plans for school reform.

Measures to ensure a fair admissions policy for schools also need to

go hand in hand with an agenda of creating more genuinely mixed

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

communities – with income mix as well as tenure mix – to break down

social divisions outside schools. More integration between early years

and primary education could also be an important step here, since there

is far greater social mix in the former than the latter (Children’s Centres,

in particular, have often been a site of real social mix). And, of course,

heavy investment to improve the most disadvantaged schools will also

help over time, by making them more attractive to all parents. Again,

the vision needs to be not one of improving schools in disadvantaged

areas simply to benefit the poorest children, but to ensure that these

schools become not just for the poorest children.

And, finally, while we have said that a politically sustainable solution

here requires a long-term and multi-faceted strategy, what we can also

say is that reforms should be avoided that might further increase institutional

segregation. It is for this reason that we would urge the

Government to rethink some of their recent reform proposals.

3. Helping young people negotiate stable and

successful transitions to adulthood

Earlier chapters noted the difference in educational pathways and

trajectories that tend to be followed by young people from more and

less advantaged backgrounds. Comparisons of the 1958 and 1970

cohorts demonstrate a growing polarisation between slow and fast transitions

from adolescence to adulthood – that is, differences in the length

of time that individuals take to ‘progress’ into stable employment,

family formation and living independently. Some young people face life

events which force them to grow up very quickly; others are more

protected, able to enjoy a longer and smoother transition.

Of particular concern for policy-makers has been the association

between ‘fast’ transitions and a range of poor outcomes in adulthood:

young people who leave education early are more likely to have no or

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

low qualifications, become parents early, have poor health and labour

market outcomes, and be at higher risk of experiencing poverty.

Under the previous Labour Government, a wide range of policy

initiatives over the last decade sought to increase participation in education

and support young people in the transition to adulthood, including

the ‘NEET’ strategy, the introduction of the Connexions Service,

Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs), Activity Agreements and

Care 2 Learn (for teenage mothers), the partial redesign of the 14-19

curriculum and phased introduction of the new diplomas, and the

raising of the Education Participation Age to 18 in 2015. As a result of

these efforts, there has been some success in raising participation in

upper secondary education (particularly through the use of financial

incentives via EMAs), though less evidence of success in raising attainment

or closing the gap in soft skills.

But poor rates of participation and high rates of attrition by disadvantaged

groups remain. 99 In particular, various revisions of the NEET

strategy failed to reduce the proportion of young people who are not in

education, employment and training. This failure is particularly

worrying, given the long-term repercussions of youth unemployment,

which is a substantial driver of poor outcomes in adulthood (and the

subsequent transmission of poor life chances to children). 100

Labour

clearly needed to be more ambitious here.

Although the individual components of the NEET strategy were valid

– early identification and tracking; personalised support and guidance;

a flexible mix of learning; and incentives to re-engage – what was

missing from the strategy was a comprehensive focus on prevention. If

the young person’s experience of schooling is already affected by earlier

negative experiences, then early identification will not address the

fundamental problem. To prevent the problem of early school leaving

and non-participation in education or training, we need to start by

changing those aspects of the mainstream education system which

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

cause young people to become disengaged from learning in the first

place.

• Young people do not have a ‘blank canvass’ for making decisions

about their future. Individuals make decisions within ‘horizons for

action’, which are shaped both by their life histories and interactions

with other people, and their emerging social identity as a

learner, which in turn is shaped by earlier experiences of learning

in different educational settings. 101

In this context, the framework

of assessment and performance targets is a notable influence; at

the moment it is a significant source of division and disengagement

within the school system. As Hinett observes, “The psychological

literature illustrates the potential for assessment systems to

induce negative emotional responses to tasks that debilitate development”.

102 So there is a need to remove the features of this system

which can cause disengagement.

• In terms of assessment, this will mean greater

emphasis on formative functions of assessment (to

support pupils’ learning), along with the use of a

wider range of assessment tools than formal written

tests alone, including the greater use of teachers’

professional judgement.

• Additionally, the system of performance targets still

focuses on a very narrow view of what counts in

education, failing to recognise the clear evidence that

a wider range of generic skills are just as important for

cognitive development as traditional subject knowledge.

Targets are needed which embody a broader

view of education, recognising that soft skills can

matter just as much for children’s development and

future outcomes as ‘hard’ skills.

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

• Another crucial priority must be to make the learning of ‘soft

skills’ more mainstream, including building children’s confidence

as learners, and developing the characteristics that help young

people cope with pressures and challenges. There is a large and

growing body of evidence that suggests that functional reasoning,

and social and self-management skills are fundamental to adolescent

development, yet malleable – so that inequalities that emerge

in childhood can be addressed in adolescence. 103 Unfortunately,

there is currently a false divide in policy: people tend to think in

terms of ‘mainstream’ policies and the ‘standards agenda’, on the

one hand, and then about additional ‘positive activities’ as a desirable

extra, on the other. Of course, no-one would deny the importance

of good GCSE attainment for young people; but a more

complex interaction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills means that

schools should not be governed by accountability frameworks that

privilege the acquisition of formal learning to the detriment of

wider forms of learning which can help develop soft skills. So

much greater emphasis needs to be placed on developing these

skills, including informal and non-formal learning through participation

in a range of activities and volunteering. This is an area

where the Government should also draw on the expertise of youth

workers and practitioners, not just to promote re-engagement with

learning but also to prevent disengagement in the first place.

76

• An important additional goal must be to promote clearer pathways

through further and higher education, whilst ensuring and

enhancing flexibility. There are currently a plethora of curricular

options, which may sometimes make it more difficult for young

people to understand what is on offer, and more difficult for

schools, colleges and training providers to offer effective information,

advice and guidance services. 104

Several reforms are important

here:

• The new Government should reduce curricular


Learning the lessons for politics and policy

complexity by moving towards a more unified qualification

framework for upper secondary education,

one that would be more readily understood by

students, colleges, employers and higher education

institutions;

• The Government should continue to strengthen provision

for vocational education. Advanced

Apprenticeships have a crucial role to play by

providing a highly valued and widely recognised

alternative to higher education, one which offers

rewarding rates of return for individuals, employers

and government.

• The Government should extend the Connexions

service to offer young people aged 16 to 25 a more

comprehensive body of support and guidance, in

place of the more limited service provided by the

Adult Career Advancement Agency;

• The Government must ensure that taking up vocational

options does not preclude a route back into

higher education or retraining at a later stage. More

transparent entrance requirements and procedures are

needed to make it possible for young people who have

followed unconventional pathways to access places at

higher education, including the top universities. The

need for transparency and greater recognition particularly

applies to vocational qualifications, which are

not always recognised as entry requirements. 105

Narrowing the gap in participation in higher education

Chapter 1 highlighted the class gaps in participation in higher education:

young people from less advantaged backgrounds with school

results near the top of the range are nevertheless less likely to go to

university than their more advantaged peers. And there is a strong

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

gradient by social class for those attending more prestigious ‘Russell

Group’ universities. What are the issues involved here for reformers to

address

• One is disparities in the patterns of application to university.

Young people with the same school results nevertheless tend to

apply to different institutions depending on their social background.

Addressing this could make an important contribution to

narrowing the gap. One often-made point here is the importance

of ensuring that all schoolchildren have access to decent careers

advice in the first place, especially as regards university applications,

and of course this is important. But a more radical approach

here might be to look afresh at the responsibility of HE institutions

themselves for attracting bigger volumes of applications from

particular social groups. Currently, all HE institutions have to have

an ‘access agreement’, approved by the Office of Fair Access

(OFFA), which, as well as setting out financial support for students

from low-income households, also typically sets out planned

outreach activities to under-represented groups. Often these agreements

include universities’ own self-imposed targets for

addressing under-representation, though these are usually

couched in terms of achieving certain proportions of intake from

particular social groups. An important development here,

however, which could ultimately be more effective at driving

forward progress, would be for OFFA to ask HE institutions to set

targets specifically for the volume of applications they should aim

to attract from under-represented groups. 106 Asking universities to

take more responsibility for shaping their own demand would

enable Russell Group universities to lead the way in attracting the

brightest pupils from all backgrounds.

78

• Related to applications, of course, is the funding of higher education.

Notably, the increase in participation amongst disadvantaged


Learning the lessons for politics and policy

youngsters continued after the introduction of variable tuition fees

in 2006 – in part, testament to the work of OFFA. It is crucial that

OFFA is maintained and its remit is promoted by government. But

we should be doing better. And there are still concerns that upfront

fees could be a disincentive to participation for some groups

– even taking into account the fact that most students do not pay

until after they have finished studying (they get an inflationlinked

loan that does not start to be repaid until earnings are over

£15,000). One issue is that you are asking students to take on debt,

without the guarantee of future success. A related point is that

individual contributions are not related to the subsequent benefits

obtained. It has become increasingly accepted that students should

make some contribution to the cost of higher education, with even

the National Union of Students now calling reform of the principle,

rather than reversal. 107 But we should move away from the

system of up-front fees to a system of retrospective income-related

payment, such as a graduate tax.

• Another issue, of course, is that of HE admissions. As autonomous

institutions, it is right that universities should control their own

admissions procedures. But that doesn’t mean that their approach

to admissions can’t be scrutinised and challenged. Our view is that

applicants should be admitted on merit, rather than applying

quotas or affirmative action. But the key point is that educational

potential needs to be taken into account more strongly when

judging merit (for example, through better use of teacher references),

rather than simply using demonstrated ability. As part of

the Widening Participation Strategic Assessments, the previous

Labour Government asked HE institutions to publish their admissions

policies and illustrate how they contribute to their widening

participation strategies. As part of this and future rounds of

Strategic Assessments, the Higher Education Funding Council for

England (HEFCE) should ask HE institutions to indicate how they

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

assess factors like educational potential and what role these factors

play in admissions policy.

Winning the political argument on access to higher education

Attempts to widen access to higher education through

reforming the admissions system will always be a magnet

for dissent. The issue is of course difficult because it means

that some, more ‘advantaged’, young people may not get a

place at their preferred institution. Whenever the debate

crops up, newspapers abound with stories of exceptionally

bright young people from advantaged backgrounds being

denied places at the best universities.

There are differences in public attitudes here according to

social class and previous level of education. In particular,

there is a strong belief among some groups in the legitimacy

of the ‘educational market place’, with outcomes assumed to

be fair rewards for effort. Interestingly, it is those who are

less familiar with the education system who tend to believe

in it most, that is, who have greatest faith in this ‘legitimating’

role that education system itself plays, and who are

the least willing to intervene.

Winning the political argument means understanding

people’s intuitive conceptions of fairness here: as discussed

in the previous chapter, this is one of rewarding effort and

results. In particular, it is crucial that reforms do not look as

if they are ‘imposing’ fairness at the expense of a ‘deserving’

group (hence concerns about ‘affirmative action’, which

looks like discriminating against certain groups). University

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

admissions policies that appear to deny young people places

at university on the grounds of family background are

regarded as unfair because, although some children start

with greater advantages, the outcomes that they achieve

have still been worked for, so are seen as deserved.

Of course, many progressives may be convinced of the

case for taking disadvantage into account, since young

people from disadvantaged backgrounds may have to work

harder than others to achieve good interim results. But the

key is not to dwell on these ‘backward-looking’ arguments

about the disadvantage that young people have experienced,

since these make it seem as if those concerned are being

admitted on the basis of this disadvantage.

Instead, the focus must be on the fairness of giving individuals

from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to

demonstrate that they can go on to achieve the highest

results – emphasising that they will be judged on effort and

results as they progress. Indeed, this would have the additional

advantage of incentivising universities to do more

than simply grant places to students from disadvantaged

backgrounds; they also need to ensure that the necessary

support is in place to see them through and reduce attrition

rates.

4. Guarantee lifetime opportunities for learning,

training and further study for all

There are significant inequalities in access to training and further education

through people’s lives. Your opportunities for accessing training

differ depending on your position in the labour market and existing

skill level. As highlighted in Chapter 1, employees without any qualifications

are four times less likely to be offered training by their employer

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

compared to graduate employees, and the TUC estimates that 44 per

cent of the workforce – some 10 million employees – were not offered

any training at all by their employer last year.

Recent policies on adult education and lifelong learning have not yet

made sufficient inroads into these inequalities. On basic skills, the Skills

for Life programme has given two and half million adults a first qualification

in literacy, language or numeracy; the Train-to-Gain programme

has expanded opportunities and provision for intermediate skills; and

the introduction of union learning reps has also been an important step

in improving access to training. Nevertheless, those in the lowest-skilled

jobs continue to be least able to access these opportunities.

• In policy terms, the ultimate goal must be to guarantee access to

learning, training and further study to all citizens and all parts of the

workforce across the life course, including the increasing number of

people who are expected to become self-employed over the next

decade, and also for older people who may need particular support in

gaining ICT skills to assist their learning. There is also a need for

government to consider how it can enable the development of soft

skills, because relatively few employers are engaging in this area.

• Here, protecting and building on government investment in skills

is crucial, particularly in the current fiscal climate. While it is right

that employers must bear some of the costs of skills provision, it is

also incumbent upon the Government to share a significant

proportion of the costs. This is not only because of the wider social

and economic benefits of improving skills, but also because

employer-led interest in skills development will always be

constrained in focus. In particular, the Government should

urgently reconsider planned cuts to skills provision, such as that

provided through the Train to Gain scheme, ahead of the spending

review this autumn.

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Learning the lessons for politics and policy

• Working with employers is of course essential in adult skills, since

they not only have an important stake in the skills of the workforce,

but are also a central provider of opportunities for training.

But it is important to recognise the drawback of a purely

employer-led system: opportunities for accessing training depend

on employers’ willingness to support it. Here, one might question

the appropriateness of employers being able to act as a ‘gatekeeper’

to learning on grounds of both principle and practice.

Some (for example, many in routine manual occupations) might

face particular obstacles in accessing opportunities for training if

their employers do not consider the skills in question (for example,

computing skills) as necessary to their job. And an employer-led

system clearly will not address the needs of all, since many adult

learners undertake further study in order to move away from their

current job. 108

For these reasons, working with employers and

business representatives, we need to move further towards giving

employees rights to access learning. The right-to-request time to

train introduced in April 2010 is an important step here, and

government will need to monitor its uptake and success carefully,

looking in particular at reasonable grounds for refusal. Ultimately,

however, we would argue for a flexibly structured ‘right to

training’, with employers having the ability to decide how this

would be organised around work in each individual case.

• Projecting forward over the next decade, a fair and effective lifelong

learning strategy needs to ensure flexibility in terms of where

and when people can learn, and in particular to offer far greater

opportunities for adult learners to engage in learning and training

at convenient times and in ‘bite-sized’ chunks that can be incorporated

within their other commitments. As previously discussed,

the rhetoric of choice in education has been heavily focussed

around choice of secondary school, without a wider consideration

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

of how the value of choice might be applied in other contexts,

especially around opportunities for learning throughout life. For

example, the current system generally assumes that higher education

students will be recent school leavers wishing to study fulltime,

having followed the traditional academic pathway from

A-levels into university. As such, there is a shortage of choices for

people who follow less conventional routes and pathways into

further and higher education, including those who wish to study

part-time and combine learning with employment or caring

responsibilities. One solution here would be to develop a widely

recognised credit-based system to allow people to complete

component parts of a qualification in different stages.

* * *

In this chapter, we have assessed some of the new Government’s

education policies against the ‘fairness tests’ set out in earlier chapters,

and discussed a range of possible reforms at different stages of the

education system, with the objective of narrowing the class gap in

attainment and experiences. In the final chapter, we conclude by

discussing briefly some controversial issues in the politics of education

reform, and the changes of mindset that will be needed to make

deeper progress in narrowing the gaps and working towards a fairer

system for all.

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5 | Conclusion: Building a public

consensus for more fundamental

reform

In this report we have argued for some radical reforms at various

stages of the education system, in order to shift us over the long

term towards a fairer, more inclusive and less segregated system,

where every child would genuinely have the chance to achieve his or

her potential.

The politics of a more mixed and inclusive education system is difficult,

to say the least. That is why the approach we envisage here is

deliberately a long-term one, motivated by consensus-building.

Imposing changes across the whole system in a ‘top-down’ way is

bound to be politically unsustainable if they are not seen as fair and

generate anxiety for many parents.

Entrenching change will only be possible by gaining public support

for reforms and establishing consensus within communities about the

underlying objectives of mix and equality.

We shouldn’t be pessimistic about the prospect of achieving such a

consensus, but doing so requires a long-term and subtle strategy to

overcome fatalism about reform and address the causes of parental

anxiety. Importantly, simply regurgitating the data about the class gaps

in education is not enough to win the political argument for removing

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

inequalities within the system. While egalitarians may of course be

convinced of the case for action, simply having a ‘say it louder’ version

of traditional egalitarian arguments for reform won’t achieve this.

So what are the political arguments that can help build political

consensus around reforms to achieve a fairer education system with

greater social and educational mix We think three strategies are particularly

important.

Overcoming a sense of fatalism and inevitability

The first task for campaigners is to overcome people’s sense of fatalism

and inevitability by showing that inequalities in education are not fixed

or immutable. International evidence can be powerful here: comparisons

provide useful and persuasive evidence to show that in many

countries the link between family background and children’s outcomes

is far less pronounced. Importantly, recent OECD evidence also shows

that the situation in the UK is not fixed either: trends over time show

that the relationship between parents’ socio-economic position and children’s

outcomes has become less strong.

Overcoming fear and anxiety

Second, to make a compelling political argument for reform, we need to

understand how the general pattern of educational chances conceals the

reality of the system for many families, whatever their socio-economic

status, which is one of struggle and insecurity. The unifying message

from parents is that the current system creates a high degree of stress

and anxiety. Even for ‘winners’ from the system, there is lots of anxiety

from the process involved. The point is that problems with the existing

system affect everyone. And while public opinion is divided on possible

solutions, all can unite around the need to remove anxiety from the

system, especially around the choice of school at age 11. The offer to

parents needs to be that the objective of reform is that they would be

able to send their child to any school in the country.

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Conclusion

A related point is that for many parents, even though they may recognise

the unfairness of various parts of the system, being under enormous

pressure to do what is best for their own children, they often feel

they have no choice but to try and ‘play’ the system, regardless of the

impact on other children. Ultimately, we need to move away from a

system that pulls parents in opposite directions, forcing them to choose

between their social values and perceptions about what they need to do

for their own children.

Where does this parental anxiety come from The reality is that

choices around schools often aren’t about positive choices relating to

school quality and competitive advantage, but rather negative ones

about avoiding the ‘wrong sort of school’. And there is no point

avoiding what this means in practice for many parents: avoiding

schools with the ‘wrong sort of children’, who would be considered a

bad influence.

To achieve lasting change, therefore, we need to start by tackling the

underlying fears among ‘middle-class’ parents of more socially-mixed

schools. While there are many challenges here, a large part of this is

about the narrative we use in education.

Debates about education in the UK have long been characterised by

what Stephen Ball has called ‘discourses of division’. Discussions about

‘standards’ and ‘educational failure’, which speak to legitimate

concerns about the quality of education, are in practice often elided with

a more visceral set of concerns about the state of Britain, crime, ‘feral

children’ and a range of other moral panics. An important consequence

of this elision is that very large social groups, like ‘low-income households’

or those from ‘disadvantaged areas’, are often conflated in the

public mind with very small social groups with extreme behaviours,

such as ‘chaotic families’ or those engaged in anti-social behaviour. The

result is that discourses around educational failure and failing schools

are tied up with an underlying fear of mixing with particular social

groups.

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

The Conservatives’ narrative on education, in particular, has been

especially focussed around the language of ‘educational failure’, which

is in turn tied to narratives around ‘Broken Britain’. But Labour sometimes

fell into this trap too: some of the narratives around the ‘Respect’

agenda were especially guilty of this, even if the underlying concerns

were perfectly valid. Ironically, this prevented the Labour Government

getting public credit for much of the good work they did on tackling

exclusion, since the narratives around policy encouraged a massively

exaggerated view of the scale of the problem in public consciousness.

Changing the terms of the debate

One very important step, then, would be to change the terms of the

debate. We need a new kind of narrative about educational inequality,

one that reduces the social distance between disadvantaged pupils and

everyone else, rather than increasing it. In particular, we need to stop

falling into the trap of conflating ideas like ‘low-income groups’ or those

in ‘disadvantaged areas’ with extreme examples of a small number of

‘chaotic’ families with multiple and intense needs, including behavioural

problems that impinge on the wider community. In turn, this

would benefit from moving discussions about schooling and standards

out of the framing of ‘educational failure’.

This needs to happen in parallel with some of the policy solutions

discussed in the previous chapter: we also have to tackle some of the

underlying problems that give rise to these fears. The first step here

needs to be heavy investment in the most disadvantaged schools, not to

shore up a failing system, but to create schools where every parent

would be proud to send their children. Here the vision is not one of

improving schools in disadvantaged areas so as to benefit the poorest

children, but to make it so that they are not just for the poorest children.

Rather than encouraging middle-class families to exit from state services,

as some on the right have traditionally advocated, we need to

consider positive inducements and incentives to middle class families

not to withdraw from state schools.

88


Conclusion

Measures like this also need to go hand in hand with an agenda of

creating more genuinely mixed communities – with income mix as well

as tenure mix – to break down social divisions outside schools. More

integration between early years and primary education could also be an

important step here, since there is far greater social mix in the former

than the latter (Children’s Centres, in particular, have often been a site

of real social mix.)

Only by addressing these underlying anxieties can we pave the way

for greater integration in education.

Ending the real poverty of aspiration

Finally, we need a further change of mindset too – this time among our

political elites. For a strong driving force that maintains divisions and

inequalities within our education system is a belief on the part of many

politicians, decision-makers and practitioners that such divisions and

inequalities are inevitable – a belief, for example, that there will always

be particular groups who are somehow just destined to fill low-skilled

and poor quality jobs.

This is perhaps most clearly seen in views towards measures to

encourage extended participation in education, and particularly higher

education. The Conservatives have recently been opposed to measures

such as Educational Maintenance Allowances and raising the

Participation Age to 18 in 2015. And both the Conservatives and Liberal

Democrats have also been opposed to a goal of getting half of young

people into higher education, even though more than half say they want

to go.

Politicians often say there’s a problem with ‘poverty of aspiration’ in

Britain. Well there is: a profound lack of ambition among too many of

our political class for disadvantaged kids. Only when we stop thinking

about the education system in ways that anticipate division and failure,

and only when we stop expecting children from different backgrounds

to follow different pathways, will we really be able to get to grips with

some of the long-entrenched inequalities in our education system.

89


Endnotes

1. National Equality Panel (2010) An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the

UK: Report of the National Equality Panel, London, Government

Equalities Office; Marmot Review (2010) Strategic Review of Health

Inequalities in England Post 2010, London, The Marmot Review.

2. This is traditionally measured using pupils’ eligibility for receiving free

school meals – because entitlement to free school meals depends on

parents’ eligibility for income-related benefits. However, eligibility

for FSM is only an approximate measure of disadvantage – and

reservations are expressed about its use as a proxy measure.

3. Vastly more is known about the extent of educational inequality than was

the case just twenty years ago. A wealth of data now exists on pupil

and school attainment in England, on national averages of attainment

(measured across the whole cohort of over 600,000 young

people each year), and we also have a more detailed picture of the

differences and gaps in attainment, measured at the level of local

areas and schools, and taking into account ethnicity and socioeconomic

background. The existence of this dataset owes much to the

priorities of government over the last two decades, First we saw the

91


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

drive of the Conservative Government in the early 1990s to introduce

national tests of attainment and make the results publicly available,

as a way of making schools more accountable and promoting

parental ‘choice’. More recently there has been greater attention

under the Labour Government to the size of the education gaps and

greater efforts to close them, which has led to more refined data and

analysis.

4. Longitudinal analysis of data from the national cohort studies allows us to

explore the relationship between earlier childhood experiences and

outcomes on the one hand and later life outcomes on the other.

5. Of course, attainment gaps do not in themselves specify the impact of the

education system as distinct from broader factors and processes

outside the education system. But they can certainly help us predict

the likelihood of children subsequently achieving particular

outcomes. They can also indicate when the educations system is

failing to tackle such inequalities.

6. Hansen, K. and Joshi, H. (eds.) (2008) Millennium Cohort Study third

survey: a user's guide to initial findings.

7. Department of Children, Schools and Families (2009) Deprivation and

Education: The evidence on pupils in England, Foundation Stage to

Key Stage 4, London: DCSF.

8. Marmot Review (2010) Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England

Post 2010, London, The Marmot Review.

9. Blanden, J., Hansen, K. and Machin, S. (2008) The GDP cost of the lost

earning potential of adults who grew up in poverty, York, Joseph

Rowntree Foundation.

10. Feinstein, L. (2003) ‘Inequality in the early cognitive development of

British children in the 1970 cohort’, Economica, 70(1), 2003;

11. Blanden, J. (2008) Analysis of Millennium Cohort Study for the Sutton

Trust

12. Hansen, K. and Joshi, H. (eds.) (2008) Millennium Cohort Study third

survey: a user's guide to initial findings.

13. Marmot Review (2010) Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England

92


Endnotes

Post 2010, London, The Marmot Review.

14. Lexmond, J. and Reeves, J. (2009) Building Character, London: Demos.

15. Ball, S. (2006) Education policy and social class: the selected works of

Stephen J. Ball, London, Routledge.

16. Melhuish, E. (2004) A literature review of the impact of early years provision

on young children, London: National Audit Office. Sammons,

P., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E. et al. (2007) Effective pre-school and

primary education 3-11 project.

17. Waldfogel, J. and Garnham, A. (2008) Childcare and child poverty, York:

Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

18. Ball, S. (2003) Class Strategies and the Education Market: The middle

classes and social advantage, London: Routledge Falmer.

19. Burgess, S., Briggs, A., McConnell, B. and Slater, H. (2006) School

Choice in England: Background Facts, Working Paper No. 06/159;

Bristol University, Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

20. Burgess et al. (2006), p.10. In this study, ‘school quality’ is measured by

the previous league table score of the school in terms of the

percentage of its pupils awarded at least 5 A* to C grades at GCSE.

21. Evidence for the link between pupil social backgrounds and educational

advantage was derived from the GCSE results held by DCSF, all of

which were linked to background information from the census. An

estimate of the social background of each pupil was calculated as

the proportion of the resident population aged 16 to 74 in the three

highest categories of ‘managerial or professional occupations’ for

the Output Area in which the home was located. (The Output Area

is the smallest area for which Census data is available, with around

125 dwellings.) In addition to recording the performance and socioeconomic

characteristic of each pupil, the dataset also records the

GCSE performance and social characteristics of the school attended.

22. Sutton Trust (2007) ‘Rates of Eligibility for free school meals at the Top

State Schools’There is also evidence that many pupils with special

educational needs (SEN) have underlying educational needs that are

linked to deprivation. (Of course, this does not imply that depriva-

93


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

tion is the sole factor; the term ‘special educational needs’ encompasses

a wide range of needs, including some which have no particular

correlation with deprivation. See Lindsay, G. et al. (2006)

‘Special educational needs and ethnicity: issues of over- and underrepresentation’,

Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and

Research / Institute of Education / University of Warwick.) And in

2006, pupils with SEN were more than twice as likely to be eligible

for free school meals as those without.

23. Department of Children, Schools and Families (2009) Deprivation and

Education: The evidence on pupils in England, Foundation Stage to

Key Stage 4, London: DCSF.

24. Evidence from a recent study of primary school teaching practices, for

example, indicates that the overall teaching quality had a stronger

net influence on reading and mathematics than some background

factors, including being eligible for FSM. Sammons, J. et al. (2006)

Effective Pre-school and Primary Education 3-11 Project (EPPE 3-11)

The Influence of School and Teaching Quality on Children’s Progress

in Primary School, DCSF Research Report RR028.

25. Sammons, J. et al. (2006) Effective Pre-school and Primary Education 3-

11 Project (EPPE 3-11) Summary Report: Variations in Teacher and

Pupil Behaviours in Year 5 Classes, DfES Research Report 817.

26. DfES (2004) Teacher Turnover, Wastage and Destinations.

27. Marshall et al. (2007, p. 67)

28. O’Donnell, L. et al. (2006) Education outside the classroom: as assessment

of activity and practice in schools and local authorities, DfES

Research Report RR803.

29. Muschamp, Y., Bullock, K., Ridge, T., Wikeley, F., (2009). 'Nothing to do':

the impact of poverty on pupils' learning identities within out-ofschool

activities. British Educational Research Journal, 35 (2), pp.

305-321.

30. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009). Deprivation and

Education: The evidence on pupils in England, Foundation stage to

Key Stage 4. London: DCSF.

94


Endnotes

31. According to the recent report of the National Equality Panel, more than

three-quarters of young men and women who achieved the best

results (more than 49 points in the GCSE scores used) in 2002-03

were in higher education by 2006-07; of pupils with the lowest

attainment at 16 (under 33 points), fewer than a fifth went on to

university.

32. Machin et al. (2009). The Russell Group is an association of 20 major

research-intensive universities of the United Kingdom, including the

universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh,

Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham,

Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton, Warwick, and Imperial College

London, King’s College London, London School of Economics and

Political Science, Queen’s University Belfast, and University College

London.

33. ONS (2009) Education and Training Statistics for the United Kingdom,

London: Office for National Statistics.

34. TUC / Unionlearn (2009) Right to training is on the right track, London:

TUC.

35. Note that the same principles and distributive norms may not be appropriate

to all phases of education. As we shall see, there may be good

reasons for adopting comprehensive principles in the earliest phases

of education, for example to allocate places at nursery or primary

school. Conversely, there may be a stronger case for applying a

meritocratic or results-based principle to admission to university than

to school.

37. The philosophical objection is that we should reject family background as

undeserved, because it is not something for which we are responsible.

38. Ridge, T. (2009) Living with Poverty: a review of the literature on children’s

and families’ experiences of poverty, London: Child Poverty Unit.

39. For further information see the Hampshire Research with Primary Schools

(HARPS) - A multidisciplinary investigation into the impact of school

composition on pupils' experiences and outcomes.

95


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

40. Brighouse, H. (2000) School Choice and Social Justice, Oxford: OUP

41. Pedley, R. (1963) The Comprehensive School, Penguin Books; Benn, M.

and Millar, F. (2005) A Comprehensive Future: Quality and Equality

for all our children.

42. Wragge, E.C. (1993) Education: A Different Vision, London: IPPR.

43. Burgess, S., Briggs, A., McConnell, B. and Slater, H. (2006) School

Choice in England: Background Facts, Working Paper No. 06/159;

Bristol University, Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

44. This is part of the problem of ‘middle-class capture’, by which the

middle-classes are said to extract greater benefit from public services

such as health and education than people in working class positions,

both because of their collective lobbying power and because

of the aggregate effects of their individual ability to ‘work the

system’.

45. As critics of a market-based system have long argued, the idea that each

school can be ‘judged on its specific character and on its merits,

rather than as one of a hierarchically arranged series of ‘types’ … is

to ignore the history of English education’ (Wragge, 1993).

46. Swift, A. (2004) ‘The Morality of School Choice’, Theory and Research in

Education 2004.

47. Brighouse, H. (2000) School Choice and Social Justice, Oxford: OUP.

49. Green, A. (1990) Education and State Formation. The Rise of Education

Systems in England, France and the USA, Macmillan. Arnot, M.,

David, M. and Weiner, G. (1999) Closing the Gender Gap: post-war

education and social change, Cambridge, Polity Press.

50. As historians of education have noted, the primary function of the school

system at this time was a differentiating one, to maintain ‘the styles

of life of different strata and the supply of appropriately socialised

recruits to them’ (Floud and Halsey 1958, p. 177, cited in Brown

1990).

51. Hurt, J (1985) Education and the Working-Classes from the Eighteenth

Century to the Twentieth Century.

52. In 1938, only one fifth of all children received a formal education after

96


Endnotes

age 14.

53. Brown, P. (1990) ‘The ‘Third Wave’: education and the ideology of parentocracy,

British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 11, issue 1,

pp. 65-86.

54. Its chief architect, Tory President of the Board of Education Rab Butler, set

out to achieve the goal of a ‘secondary education for all’, which had

first been raised in the inter-war years, with an expectation that

compulsory education should be provided for all young people, at

least part-time, up to the age of 18. In the event, Butler’s expectation

has yet to be realised in the six decades since the Act was

passed. The 1944 Act required local education authorities (LEAs) to

provide state-funded education for pupils, but only up to the age of

15, with a subsequent extension bringing the compulsory leaving

age up to 16 in 1973. Under current government proposals, Butler’s

expectation for participation up to 18 is finally, and belatedly, due to

be fulfilled in 2015.

55. The failure to establish technical schools was a major disappointment of

the post-war period, leading to the lack of a coherent model of vocational

education which could enjoy parity of esteem with the

academic pathway. Despite thirty years of initiatives since the 1970s

which have sought to bolster the vocational system, the idea that

vocational courses are for ‘less able students’ continues to be an

enduring feature of the UK’s system today. See McCulloch, G.

(1989) The Secondary Technical School: A Usable Past

56. Cox, C and Boyson, R (eds.) (1977) Black Paper, London: Temple Smith;

The Hillgate Group (1986) Whose Schools: A Radical Manifesto,

London: Hillgate Group.

57. For many on the right, the issue of ‘standards’ has been as much a moral

matter as an educational one, arising from a perception that traditional

authority, leadership and elite culture were under threat, and

a desire to reverse a perceived shift from elite to mass culture.

58. Brown, P. (1990) ‘The ‘Third Wave’: education and the ideology of parentocracy,

British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 11, issue 1,

97


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

pp. 65-86.

59. Polling by MORI / Sutton Trust, 2008

60. Bamfield, L. and Horton, T. (2009) Understanding attitudes towards tackling

economic inequality, York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

61. Lane, R. (1959) ‘Fear of Equality’, American Political Science Review, 59

(1), pp. 35-51.

62. Labour sought to prove its commitment to better and fairer standards in

schools, with five eye-catching pledges in its 1997 Manifesto,

including promises to cut class sizes to 30 or under for children from

the ages of five to seven by redirecting funds from the phasing out

of the assisted places scheme, and to increase the number of

teachers by 10,000, thereby improving teaching conditions in

secondary schools.

63. The Literacy Task Force, led by Michael Barber, was established by the

Labour Party whilst still in Opposition, in May 1996. Its purpose was

to develop a strategy for substantially improving attainment in

literacy in primary schools in England over the next decade. The

idea of a daily literacy hour in primary schools was a key recommendation

in its interim and final reports, though the idea had actually

been initiated by the Department of Education and Employment

under the Conservative Government in 1996.

64. Literacy Task Force (1997a) A Reading Revolution – how can we help

every child to read well; Literacy Task Force, (1997b) The

Implementation of the National Literacy Hour.

65. In 2003 the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies were amalgamated

into the National Primary Strategy.

66. As set out in the 2001 White Paper: ‘Schools – Achieving Success’, diversity

was trailed as a means of raising education standards at

secondary level. The idea was that encouraging schools to develop

their own distinct ethos and character and encouraging greater

diversity and flexibility would deliver high minimum standards in

education and higher standards overall.

http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/schooldiversity/what_is_school_diver-

98


Endnotes

sity/version=1

67. Burgess, S., Briggs, A., McConnell, B. and Slater, H. (2006) School

Choice in England: Background Facts, Working Paper No. 06/159;

Bristol University, Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

68. Daycare Trust (2008) Childcare Futures: Policy Insight Paper 2, London:

Daycare Trust. Child Poverty Action Group; Marmot Review (2009)

Taskforce on Early Years Education.

69. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) The Children’s

Plan;, London: The Stationary Office; DCSF (2009) Breaking the Link

between disadvantage and low attainment: Everybody’s Business,

London: DCSF.

70. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) The Children’s

Plan, London: The Stationary Office

71. Ed Balls, speech to Daycare Trust, 2009

72. HM Government (2010) The Coalition: Our programme for government,

available

at:

http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/409088/pfg_coalition.pdf

73. See previous footnote

74. Daycare Trust (2008) Childcare Futures: Policy Insight Paper 2, London:

Daycare Trust. Child Poverty Action Group; Marmot Review (2009)

Taskforce on Early Years Education.

75. Ofsted (2009) The impact of integrated services on children and their

families in Sure Start children’s centres.

76. National Evaluation of Sure Start (2007) Changes in the Characteristics

of SSLP Areas between 2000/01 and 2004/05, NESS Research

Report 201.

77. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100043129/the-jokeis-over-for-middle-class-mums/

78. Ofsted (2009) The Impact of Integrated Services on Children and their

Families in Sure Start Chidlren’s Centres; Audit Commission (2010)

Giving Children a Healthy Start; Children, Schools and Families

Select Committee (2009-2010) Sure Start Children’s Centres.

79. These issues are discussed further in The Solidarity Society: Why we can

99


What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

afford to end poverty, and how to do it with public support (Tim

Horton and James Gregory, The Fabian Society, 2009).

80. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) The Children’s

Plan, London: The Stationary Office; DCSF (2009) The Children’s

Plan: Two Years On, London: The Stationary Office; DCSF (2009)

Breaking the Link

81. Although a number of stability measures aimed at the local authority

funding process were introduced in 2003 by Charles Clarke, then

Education Secretary, in response to the alleged “crisis” in school

funding, which saw some schools struggling to pay staff, a subsequent

Audit Commission investigation found that the problem lay

not with annual revenue funding via local authorities, but with “the

late announcement of changes to major specific grants (particularly

the Standards Fund)”, which left “some schools better off than

expected and some schools with less funding than anticipated”

(Audit Commission (2004) Education Funding: the impact and effectiveness

of measures to stabilise school funding, p. 2).

82. McKinsey & Company (2007) How the world’s best performing school

systems come out on top, available at:

http://www.mckinsey.com/App_Media/Reports/SSO/Worlds_School

_Systems_Final.pdf

83. http://www.teachfirst.org.uk/what_is_teachfirst/our_mission

85. Ofsted (2009) Twelve outstanding secondary schools: excelling against

the odds

86. Ridge, T. (2009) Living with Poverty: a review of the literature on children’s

and families’ experiences of poverty, London: Child Poverty Unit.

Key studies in this area include Roker, 1998; Ridge 2002; ATD

Fourth World, 2000; Willow 2001; Crowley and Vulliamy 2007;

Horgan, 2007a, 2007b; 2009; Sutton et al, 2007; Wikeley et al,

2007.

87. As the Child Poverty Action Group’s ‘2skint4school’ campaign advocates,

action is needed in each area to ensure that no child is prevented

from taking part in fun and rewarding learning activities and expe-

100


Endnotes

riences because her parents are unable to afford the costs.

88. In the short term, a potential option would be just to extend free school

meals to children whose parents qualify for working tax credit.

89. As detailed in Chapter 2, Labour backbenchers’ protests against measures

to promote ‘choice and diversity’ in the 2005 Schools White

Paper and 2006 Education Bill forced the Government to make a

number of significant concessions during the passage of the Bill,

including plans to monitor Trusts, to ensure an important and effective

role for the local authorities, and to take measures to protect

against unfair admissions by strengthening the then voluntary school

admissions code.

90. OECD (2007) Programme for International Student Assessment.

91. Ofsted (2009) Characteristics of outstanding primary schools in challenging

circumstances.

https://ofsted.gov.uk/content/download/.../file/20ops_2_characteristics.pdf

92. “The country that provides the closest model for what we wish to do is

Sweden. Over the past fifteen years, Sweden has introduced a new

system that has allowed the creation of many new high quality state

schools that are independent from political control. All parents have

the power to take their child out of a state school and apply to a new

independent state school. The money that went to the failing state

school is transferred to the new independent school…These are the

basic dynamics we will introduce into the British school system.”

(Raising the Bar, Closing the Gap, 2007, Conservative Party)

93. ‘What influences educational achievement in Swedish schools’,

Skolverket, 2010.

94. ‘Independent schools as part of the system: 1991-2004’, Skolverket,

2006.

95. On standards within the new independent schools, the Director-General

of Skolverket recently explained that: “The students in the new

schools, they have in general better standards [i.e. outcomes], but it

has to do with their parents, their backgrounds. They come from

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What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education

well-educated families.” (Per Thullberg, Newsnight, 8 February

2010).

97. Witness parents’ reactions to the decision by Brighton and Hove City

Council in 2007 to use a random ballot to allocate places to oversubscribed

schools. In this case, parents’ objections to the new

system – using fixed catchment areas based on postcodes – led to a

review of the council’s new admissions policy by an independent

schools adjudicator. The adjudicator approved the policy, subject to

a review after 12 months, saying it would give more pupils a better

chance of going to popular schools. After initial objections, however,

the main source of contention since the operation of the new system

has not been the use of lotteries so much as the boundaries of the

catchment areas. In 2009, Ed Balls, then Children’s Secretary,

entered the debate, arguing that lotteries can be ‘arbitrary’ and

‘unfair’, and asked the schools adjudicator to carry out a national

review of random allocation systems. Reporting in November 2009,

the schools adjudicator, Ian Craig, suggested that lotteries did create

‘uncertainty’ among parents, but concluded that current rules

governing random allocation systems are ‘appropriate’ and do not

need to change. The schools adjudicator published research

showing that 29 out of 150 local councils now employ lotteries at

one or more schools, if they were oversubscribed. Two councils –

Brighton and Hove, and Hertfordshire – used lotteries in a structured

way across a number of schools.

98. Tikka, T. & Suominen, E. (2008, p.44). Education Society 2.0 – Inclusion

and Skills for All, Helsinki: Kalevi Sorsa Foundation.

99. Pring, R. et al. (2009) Education for All: The future of education and

training for 14-19 year olds: Final report of the Nuffield 14-19

Review, London: Routledge.

100. Blanden et al. (2006) Accounting for Intergenerational Income

Persistence: Non-cognitive skills, Ability and Education, University of

Surrey: Discussion Paper in Economics.

102


Endnotes

101. Hodkinson, P. et al. (1996). Triumphs and Tears:Young People, Markets

and the Transition from School to Work. London: David Fulton.

102. Hinett, K. (2002, p. 182) ‘Assessing Failure or Failing to Assess’ in

Wareham T and Peelo, M(eds) Failing Students in Higher Education.

SRHE and Open University Press.

103. In particular, these skills are primary drivers of economic outcomes

(such as earnings) and social outcomes (such as risky behaviours).

See, for example, the recent PMSU report on adolescence.

104. Pring, R. et al. (2009) Education for All: The future of education and

training for 14-19 year olds: Final report of the Nuffield 14-19

Review, London: Routledge.

105. See previous footnote

106. Some higher education institutions are already doing this, for example,

Bath University and Bristol University (OFFA, personal communication)

107. NUS (2009) Broke and Broken: a critique of the higher education

funding system

108. Even from an economic perspective, one could also question whether

employers will necessarily make optimum decisions from the

perspective of organisational strategy. A variety of evidence suggests

that poor resource utilisation within the firm is an ongoing cause of

the productivity gap between the UK and our major international

competitors.

103


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109


FABIAN

SOCIETY

What’s Fair Applying the fairness

test to education

Louise Bamfield and Tim Horton

‘What’s fair Applying the fairness test to education’ asks what a

fair education system would look like and argues for important

reforms needed to narrow the gaps in educational attainment and

opportunity between different social groups in the UK. The report

explores what progress the Labour Government made in tackling

educational inequality during its time in office and considers what

the implications of the new Coalition Government’s proposed

reforms might be. Outlining original research into public attitudes,

‘What’s fair’ also looks at what the public think is fair in education,

and how the arguments for reforms to tackle educational

inequalities can be won.

This report is published as part of the Fabian Society’s research

programme ‘Fighting Poverty and Inequality in an Age of

Affluence’, in association with the Webb Memorial Trust.

Fabian Freethinking

ISBN 978 0 7163 4111 6

£5

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