Let Down: Report claims B&NES schools are failing disadvantaged children

By Becky Brooks in Education

In advance of a Council meeting which considered school performance in B&NES this week, Labour’s Education Spokesperson, Councillor Liz Hardman (Labour, Paulton), has expressed her deep concern about the failure of local schools to support the most disadvantaged children in our area.

A report to the meeting of the Children and Young People Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel, which took place on Tuesday, states that ‘Outcomes for disadvantaged children (in B&NES) are low at every key stage when compared to similar pupils nationally… These children are not catching up and are being systematically let down by the schools and colleges in the area’.

Cllr Hardman said: “The hard-hitting report makes very depressing reading. Across the board, at all ages and across the whole of B&NES, our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people are not making the progress that we expect.

“Under successive Conservative Education Secretaries of State, we have had seven years where the educational landscape is subject to constant change. The result? Worsening outcomes for the most disadvantaged.

“Some of our worst performing schools are Academies, yet, the Government continues to promote them as the answer to poor school performances. When Academies fail, they are not accountable to their local communities and the local authority has no power to intervene to turn things around.

“At the same time, schools are now experiencing extreme financial pressure with real-term cuts to their budgets.

“The education of a whole generation of children is under threat. Change for its own sake is a waste of public money, and yet the Government is seeking to extend this fragmentation even further with the Prime Minister’s Grammar School vanity project.”

Whilst it is important to stress that schools in the area are generally very good, (in the report, Norton Hill and Somervale Secondary Schools had some of the strongest progress), concerns are raised about vulnerable pupils across the area who begin their education disadvantaged and stay disadvantaged throughout their time at school.

The report claims that action is needed to challenge schools about the way in which Pupil Premium funding is used to help raise the attainment of these pupils. It also notes that pupils from low income families, irrespective of their ability, are less likely to benefit from attending a Good or Outstanding school and that outcomes are low at every key stage when compared to similar pupils nationally. It says: ‘These pupils often may not have the advantages of more affluent pupils, with respect to high quality child care and homes full of books and educational toys. If they fall behind during primary or secondary school, it will be harder for their parents to provide additional support.”

Cllr Hardman added: “B&NES Council can only advise and support Academies when things go wrong, but it is likely that the Council will now be looking closely at the Pupil Premium and how it is used – one of the ways in which disadvantaged children can be helped.

“But there needs to be a sense of urgency – there is a fragmented educational landscape and I do feel that there is a lack of accountability when you do not have democracy involved. B&NES could only support parents when Bath Community Academy closed, for example, as the Regional Schools Commissioner is responsible for Academies, not the local authority. There’s no quick or easy answer and B&NES says it is offering support and that schools do have sufficient staff for improvement – but it does mean that we have to be vigilant.”