Education & Family

Children's charities urged to open free schools

Poor estate Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption There are calls to break the link between poverty and school underachievement

Charities campaigning against child poverty should be encouraged to set up their own free schools, a think tank report says.

The Centre for Social Justice has published a report on ways to break the link between poverty and educational underachievement.

It warns exam results often remain lower for pupils from poorer families, creating a "cycle of disadvantage".

The report calls for "urgent action" to improve their chances.

"Educational failure can have a shattering impact on a child's life chances and opportunities," says the report from the Centre for Social Justice.

Early intervention

The report, produced by a working group including head teachers, academy trusts and education charities Teach First and the Sutton Trust, sets out ideas for reducing the risk of such failure.

This includes calling for more free schools to serve disadvantaged areas, with the suggestion that children's charities could open their own schools.

Free schools are state-funded schools in England set up by parents or community groups. Their opponents have claimed that they are not being opened in the areas of greatest need.

"Too few effective grassroots, poverty-fighting charities have set up these schools in the poorest areas," says the report.

It calls for more support from the Department for Education to help such anti-poverty charities to open schools.

But a spokesman for the NSPCC said that it was unlikely to get involved in opening a school, as it was focused on child protection and "sadly we can't do everything".

Image copyright PA
Image caption There should be incentives for schools in poorer areas to attract the best staff

The report says that the best head teachers should be encouraged to teach in underperforming schools.

At present, heads might fear such a move because they could face a bad Ofsted inspection - so the report says there should be a two-year "inspection holiday" for schools which have struggled to attract well-qualified applicants.

The report emphasises the importance of early intervention.

It calls for more nursery classes to be attached to primary schools, with the aim of making sure that pupils are ready to begin learning when they move up to primary school.

The development of language skills is particularly important to being "school ready".

State boarding schools

There is also a recommendation that there should be staff with qualified teacher status for pupils from the age of two.

The criteria for schools to receive the pupil premium, which targets funding at disadvantaged pupils, should be widened, argues the report, so that it takes into account family background, such as parents' mental health problems or addictions.

It also proposes wider use of state boarding schools as a form of "preventative intervention" and alternative to children going into care.

There are currently 36 state boarding schools with about 5,000 places.

The report highlights that there are wide regional differences in pupils' performance at school, with London schools achieving particularly high results, including for poorer children.

It calls for finding ways to spread such examples of success more widely across the country and to deploy the best teachers in a more strategic way.

After their GCSEs, pupils from poorer backgrounds are disproportionately much more likely to be in further education colleges rather than school sixth forms and the report argues that there needs to be more attention paid to standards in colleges and levels of funding.

In some of the poorest areas, only one in four children on free school meals get five good GCSEs including English and maths, says the report.

"This is an enormous social injustice and an economic threat which deprives our country of its considerable and diverse talent," said Christian Guy, the director of the Centre for Social Justice.

"Every school in this country can be excellent - inspirational and transformative teaching should be a norm not a privilege."

There are 80 free schools opening this term and Natalie Evans, director of the New Schools Network which supports free schools, said:

"Free schools are already 10 times as likely to serve the most deprived communities as the least deprived.

"Charities are playing an important role setting up free schools that often put close links to the community at the heart of what they do.

"Whether it's involving parents in learning or using sport or the creative arts to motivate excluded young people a core part of their vision is that the school is a resource for the whole community."

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