UK: Scrutinising the notion of ‘high-performing’ schools

Teacher unionists in the UK have requested public authorities to explain the term ‘high performing’ schools, and reiterated the need for social justice and social mobility for all young people.

There is a widening geographical divide in access to high-performing schools in England, according to a report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) ‘Access to high performing schools in England’, published on 21 December.

Playing the game?

“All young people should have access to good schools,” stressed National Education Union (NEU) Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted. However, the EPI’s use of the term ‘high performing’ must be questioned, she said.

“Teachers work tirelessly and with dedication in all schools,” she added, insisting that ‘high-performing’ schools do not necessarily reflect genuine outcomes for learners. Instead, they “are often the result of playing the game according to the rules set by the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted)”.

Social mobility

Sending young people to a ‘high-performing’ school cannot, on its own, ensure social mobility, Bousted said, as life chances are determined by socio-economic background. “The Government must ensure social justice through addressing child poverty, rather than assuming that schools can, on their own, fix the problems arising from inequality from birth.

“The potential for social mobility is also negatively impacted by the effects of recent governments’ education reforms, including the narrowing of a more academic curriculum, assessment, performance measures, and the lack of funding for good quality careers advice and guidance.”

If the Government is serious about social mobility for young people, it should ensure that education is properly funded, with professional staff who are not overburdened by excessive workloads, she concluded.

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