Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Educational inequality has reduced with Labour

As if Lord Ashcroft's millions and the greatly inflated Short money were not enough, one sometimes thinks listening to the radio each morning that the Government feels it needs to do more to assist the Conservative election campaign, with today's inequalities report the latest contribution to the self-flagellating narrative of Labour 'failure'.

To be fair, the Harman/Hills report does acknowledge that some Labour programmes have had an effect, like tax credits and early years' policy. But little is said upfront about the impact of education programmes like the academies, excellence in cities and the national challenge. And the strongest evidence that Labour has narrowed the gap in GCSE achievement between social classes (though it does acknowledge changes with ethnic minorities) is buried on page 266 of the report and draws on information in the 2007 Youth Cohort Study.
Figure 10.3 shows trends in this level of achievement by parental occupational social class for children in England and Wales, between 1989 and 1998 using one classification, and from 2000 to 2006 using the classification we used in the last sixchapters (National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC)). In the first period, the gap between children with unskilled manual and with managerial/ professional parents widened from 40 to 49 percentage points, but in the second the gap between children with parents in routine and in higher professional occupations narrowed from 48 to 39 percentage points. So while this gap remains very wide (and we discuss in Chapter 6 how it develops over the school years), there are signs that it has narrowed a little in recent years.
Translated into plain English, what this means is that the poorest social group saw their GCSE results improve by 14 percentage points between 1999 and 2006 whereas the best off group saw only a six point rise. Indeed, the increase for lower professionals was 11 points and for lower supervisory groups twelve points. More recent figures - including last year's GCSE results allowing for free school meal take-up - suggest the gap has narrowed a bit further. By contrast, under the Tories there was a substantial widening of the gap in the years after the GCSE was introduced, with those in 'unskilled manual' groups seeing improvements less than half those of managerial/professional children. Hardly a sign of Labour failure, then.

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