Like all good select committees, the Education Select Committee is rarely a helpful chum of Michael Gove. Its warnings on the reform of GCSEs, for instance, played a part in one of Gove’s biggest volte-faces.
But its report this morning on ‘underachievements of white working class children’ (a group it then narrows to ‘poor white British boys and girls’ who are on free school meals) recommends a course of action not dissimilar to that which Gove is already taking, set in motion by the Blairites. It says:
‘This problem [of underachievement] must be tackled by ensuring that the best teachers and leader are incentivised to work in the schools and areas that need them the most, and by providing better advice and guidance to young people. Schools face a battle for resources and talent, and those serving poor white communities need a better chance of winning. Poor white children in rural and coastal areas have been ‘unseen’ for too long: unless such steps are taken the potential of white working class children will be left unlocked, and the effects of the current trend will continue to be felt beyond the school gates. White working class children can achieve in education, and the Government must take these steps to ensure that they do.’
Some of the recommendations include incentives for teachers to work in the most challenging schools (which Team Gove would argue could include performance-related pay), an extended school day so that disadvantaged children can complete their homework and better scrutiny of the Pupil Premium. The overarching and entirely obvious conclusion is that ‘good schools greatly benefit disadvantaged children’. So obvious, in fact, that it might not need saying, but in an environment where some teaching unions lose their tempers when even vaguely tougher monitoring of their members is suggested, it is necessary. Gove might cheese off some of his colleagues, he might enjoy scrapping just a little bit too much, but he’s also continuing one of the most important social justice missions of modern times. The right to a good education for a poor child whose parents could never afford private schooling will be far bigger legacy that Gove and his Blairite predecessors will leave than any of the tiffs and tantrums that all of them have engaged in over the years.
P.S. The Independent splashes today on ‘Rabbit Hutch Britain’. One factor in a disadvantaged child’s underachievement at school is unsuitable home environment for completing school work, such as no desk or table to sit at. If we were building sufficient numbers of the right sort of homes where they were needed, then we’d release the pressure on some families desperate to move out of cramped accommodation. Recommendations on housebuilding are outside the Education Select Committee’s remit, but it’s a point worth mulling when considering the social justice agenda of any government.