Saturday, 1 October 2011

Here's the proof: Labour DID improve social mobility

One of the more persistent myths perpetrated by the government and its media friends is that, for all its good intentions in education, the Labour government achieved little beyond building some shiny new schools and paying teachers better. Anyone who has visited schools before and after the Labour years knows this to be palpable nonsense. And there has been lots of data to show it to be so: from the primary school improvements, particularly from 1996-2001 and the huge reductions in schools below floor targets at GCSE.

But evidence of the benefits to poorer children on a national scale has been more elusive: the achievements of academies, the turnaround of London schools, the outsourcing of local authority education functions or the vast improvements in literacy and numeracy in boroughs like Tower Hamlets are all treated as beside the point, or the result of dodgy vocational qualifications (even though the results excluding these qualifications have shown substantial improvements and were published in the education statistics).

So, we should be grateful to the Financial Times, and its education editor Chris Cook, for a rarity in journalism today: an analysis informed by the facts. Cook and the FT have looke solely at the sort of subjects that Michael Gove thinks children should learn - sciences, modern languages, maths, English, history and geography - and concluded that

Between 2006 and 2010, after stripping out the effects of grade inflation, the bottom of the distribution shifted upwards: the gap closed by one sixth of a grade in every one of these GCSE subjects.

This is a remarkably important finding, as such gaps may narrow quickly in individual schools, but can take a lot to shift systemically. Less surprisingly, perhaps, the FT finds that

If vocational subjects are included, the fall is more pronounced. On that measure, the expected gap between two children from neighbourhoods ten deprivation percentiles apart closed from 2.8 to only 1.8 percentiles.

Equally fascinating is the extent to which Islington has narrowed the gap far faster than neighbouring Camden, a change the FT attributes to the borough's outsourced Cambridge Education, but which surely owes much too to the impact of London Challenge and the new academies in the area.

But despite the rhetoric, the truth is that coalition ministers know that Labour's key policies were working. That's why they have expanded sponsor-led academies and taken key aspects of the London Challenge - especially the National Leaders of Education - and increased them. Still, it is good to have the evidence.


Anonymous said...

Labour's Education policies were its strongest hand. Better than its splurge of spending on the NHS and slightly dodgy Middle Eastern escapades. Investment in schools, initiatives such as Excellence in Cities and feed through from Sure Start have made a significant impact.

There was much the Labour Government of 1997-2010 got wrong. But it's education policy is something its supporters can be proud of.

Anonymous said...

But on the other hand, UK schools slip down world rankings (Guardian Dec 2010) -

Matthew said...

Is it possible that the top performing students (or a proportion of them) have reached a ceiling (ie they get all As) and so the distribution will artifically compress?