Good schools take too few poor pupils

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Poor children in England are less likely to attend the best schools, even if they live nearby, according to a new study.

The research by the Schooldash blog found that school admission policies are playing a greater part than local residential deprivation in the uneven distribution of poorer pupils between schools.

The analysis also found that while many faith schools are disproportionately located in poorer areas, they tend to cream, skim and cater to children from more affluent families within those areas, and specifically those schools affiliated with Roman Catholicism and the small number associated with various non-Christian faiths.

Overall, the pictures for primary and secondary schools are very similar. Poor children seem to cluster in particular schools due to a combination of demographic and school selection effects – and if anything it is the latter that has the larger impact.

The schools most available to them are sponsor-led academies or those with poor Ofsted ratings. 

When it comes to admitting poorer pupils, faith schools tend to be either neutral or negative.

In general, more affluent families live closer to schools, but this varies a lot by school type. A family living next to a school rated ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted is over 60 per cent more likely to be poor than one living next to an ‘Outstanding’ school.

Just as importantly, the well-known ‘house price’ effect is far from the only factor keeping poorer children out of good schools. Even those poorer children who do live close to a high-performing school are less likely to end up going there. Indeed, the data presented here suggest that school selection is an even bigger driver of social sorting than the locations of family homes.

According to the report, the figures do not necessarily mean that anyone is deliberately conspiring to keep poorer children out. They are more likely to be the unintended consequences of admissions policies or the result of different school choices between social groups.

But until something changes, it is hard to see how poorer children will get a fair chance when the schools that are most open to them are largely the kinds that no-one else wants to attend.

Schooldash founder, Timo Hannay, said: "The data presented here suggest that the 'postcode lottery' is far from the only effect keeping poorer children out of good schools, even those poorer children who do live close to a high-performing school are less likely to end up going there."

Access our summary of the full Schooldash report here.

School Leadership Today
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