THE BLOG

The Schools That Do Less to Help Poorer Children

23/06/2013 19:38 BST | Updated 23/08/2013 10:12 BST

If you are a child born into a poor family in the UK you are less likely to do well at school, less likely to do well in life and ultimately die at a younger age. This is grossly unfair but true for thousands of our young people. One of the few ways to escape poverty is to do well at school and to achieve decent exam results and yet this is harder to do if you come from a family on a very low income.

These children need extra help from their schools. While some get this extra help to escape the cycle of poverty some poorer children who live in many otherwise wealthy areas do not.

It is not as if this poverty is restricted to those families that rely on benefits - 66% of poorer households have one person working.

Ofsted recently reported on the disparity between different areas in what they do to help children on free school meals to achieve decent results in their GCSEs.

Many London Boroughs have very high numbers of children on free school meals and yet help many of them to pass five A to C GCSEs including English and maths. Kensington and Chelsea have around 25% of their children on free school meals and yet 77% of them achieve five A to C GCSEs. Newham has 39% of children on free school meals and 52% achieve 5 GCSE's. These results show what is possible.

In stark contrast West Berkshire has only 7.4% of children on free school meals and yet only 21.9% of these children achieve five good GCSE's. Wokingham has only 6.2% of children on free school meals and only 26.2% achieve five good GCSEs. These are two of the UK's wealthiest areas with the smallest number of young people needing extra support and yet they are amongst the worst performers.

We often hear phrases like 'social mobility' banded about - a rather clinical or academic phrase that fails to describe the unfairness of being trapped by accident of birth with fewer opportunities in life.

Some people will take the view that this is not their problem - people who are not poor that is - but we all pay the price for people who can't get a job and can't contribute because they don't have the skills and confidence.

Michael Gove wants to overhaul GSCEs so that we can 'compete with the rest of the world'. Cutting back on course work and pushing the pass mark higher. But the new examination will be defined by those it excludes - that fewer people achieve decent results will be seen as a success.

I am not for exams so easy that everyone passes but I am against making it harder to succeed without a more level playing field for those clever but poorer children who don't have the same opportunities as richer children.

Whatever the merits of such a change it will make it even harder for poorer pupils to do well in these areas where they don't get the support they deserve.

No doubt when these young people leave school with few qualifications they will face the additional challenges of being pressured into getting jobs by threats of losing any financial support from the state in a jobs market which is not getting any easier for those at the bottom of the pile.

If we abandon hundreds of young people in this way every year we will simply be enlarging an underclass of people who have no stake in their communities and that cannot do anyone any good.

Poverty creates further poverty as generation after generation of poor families fail to escape it - these schools can and should do more to help them.