The government's key measure of school worth, Progress 8, is under fire from headteachers who say that it discriminates against secondary schools in traditional English working-class areas where there is usually both economic deprivation and a low proportion of pupils speaking English as a second language.
This is because Progress 8 measures the improvement a child has made since coming from primary school. This, its critics say, means it discriminates in favour of children who speak English as a second language as they usually start slowly at school and then catch up fast as they become fluent. Because of this, schools with a large proportion of such children seem to add a lot of value. Compounding this is the fact that migrant families usually (though not universally) strongly support their children’s education and are ambitious for them – unlike, it seems, some families from more traditional communities.
The Times quoted James Eldon, principal of the Manchester Enterprise Academy, where 90% of the GCSE year are eligible for free school meals, saying:
“If this were any other ethnic group at the bottom, people would be unsettled. But because it’s the white working-class, it’s somehow less controversial.”
It also quotes Ian Butterfield, head of Hindley high school near Wigan, who told the BBC that the flaw in the system was that deprivation was not taken into account. While the “winners” in the new system were more affluent schools, he said it was almost impossible for those in predominantly white working-class areas, such as parts of the northwest and northeast, not to receive a negative score.
Inevitably, its feckless / uncaring (you choose) parents who are getting the blame. If only they'd take their children's education more seriously! If only they'd want them to get on in life, and be more middle class! If only, ... . But someone has to be at the bottom of the league tables – that is, after all, what they are for.