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'Toxic Effects' of Class Divide in Education

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The leader of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has warned that schools are increasingly divided along class lines – and that the poorest children suffer most from the ‘toxic effects’ of segregation

Dr Mary Bousted claimed that in a ‘vastly unequal society’, socially divided schools lead to failure for the poorest children. She said that middle class children were kept away from the most deprived schools by their parents, effectively creating ‘schools for the dispossessed’ and a society in which only the brightest pupils would escape the lasting effects of inequality.

Bousted said that lack of mixed intakes in schools prevented children from learning ‘those intangible life skills of aspiration, effort and persistence from one another’. Coalition cuts are further increasing inequality – like the removal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) that encouraged many poorer children to stay in education.

Bousted challenged ministers and Ofsted for ignoring their responsibilities in tackling inequality. By blaming schools for the educational outcomes of the poor, she said, ‘they are seeking to wash their hands, like Pontius Pilate, of all the causes of educational failure over which they have more control than anyone else.

‘Schools cannot vanquish these inequalities’, she continued – it is not enough to say that children are held back by ‘chains of low expectation’.

Rather than expecting schools to tackle inequality, or blaming them for being unable to, ‘we need more than an education agenda, we need a social agenda that fights poverty and inequality’, Bousted said.  

Her comments were reflected at the annual conference speech to the ATL by Nick Gibb, the schools minister. He echoed her thoughts that schools do not have a duty to tackle wider social problems, but simply to 'make sure children leave school well-educated. That is the best way out of poverty.'

The comments come as the Resolution Foundation heralds ‘Black Friday’ – far from a Good Friday, the think tank has found that from tomorrow thousands of working families will lose up to a quarter of their household income as major cuts to tax credits start to bite, with the greatest impact for lower income households.

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