National policies fuelling segregation in primary schools


National polices are preventing primary schools from responding effectively to increased diversity in the classroom, according to a report written by a team of researchers at The University of Manchester.

The report - commissioned by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust - concludes that national policies are creating further levels of segregation within the English primary education system, with children from minority and economically poorer backgrounds most affected.

The research team argues that the education system is failing to build on and share best practice that already exists in some schools, and blames narrowly focused national testing and schools increasingly working in isolation.

The report is based on an analysis of recent research.

Professor Alan Dyson, co-director of Manchester’s Centre for Equity in Education, said: “Whilst it isn’t a new phenomenon that schools themselves have had to find ways of educating children from very different backgrounds within the same institution and in the same classroom, rapid changes in patterns of diversity, whether they are attributable to migration, population growth, gentrification or any other cause, are important because they present immediate challenges,and opportunities, to the school system.”

An increasingly fragmented school system is cited in the report as a major issue for schools struggling to keep pace with the educational challenges thrown up as “their profile of pupil diversity expands,” and “substantial social segregation is reflected and reproduced”.

As a result, the researchers found the support network for schools that need it is lacking, with schools more likely to be working in isolation, or as part of academy chains, federations and other networks that may or may not provide effective support.

Professor Mel Ainscow, also from Manchester’s Centre for Equity in Education, said: “There is an urgent need to create a system in which schools are no longer divided from one another and from their local communities.

“Whilst we believe it is encouraging that schools now enjoy an enhanced level of autonomy and are less beholden to central initiatives or constrained by the national curriculum, it is a double-edged sword because they are more likely to be operating independently of local authority oversight.”

The report says practitioners must be allowed to explore new ways of working without fear of the consequences, even if outcomes are not immediately improved. It suggests that this would encourage greater collaboration between schools in order to make the best practices available to a wider number of pupils.

“Those who are closest to children and their communities must have the space and encouragement to make decisions about how all their pupils can be best educated,” said Dr Lise Hopwood, one of the report writers.

She added, “National accountability requirements are as powerful as ever and limit creativity and risk-taking. This stifles the radical new thinking that would encourage greater collaboration and experimentation across the education service.”