Britain's divided schools: a disturbing portrait of inequality
One of the most comprehensive studies into fairness in the UK shows how class, race and gender remain crucial factors in determining how British pupils succeed at school - and beyond
The statistics are stark: boys are slipping behind girls in 11 out of 13 learning categories by the age of five; children from the poorest families are half as likely to achieve good GCSEs; black pupils of Caribbean descent are three times more likely to be excluded; four out of five young people with special needs are being bullied; between a quarter and a third of Muslim women have no qualifications.
After decades of reform, during which governments have tried desperately to address the social fault lines in British education, the problems persist.
In the space of 80 pages – one chapter of its groundbreaking report on fairness in Britain, due to be published tomorrow – the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) portrays an education system in 2010 that is deeply divided. The inequalities emerge at nursery, carry on into primary school and secondary education, and then university and beyond. Some relate to race, others to poverty, disability and the problems experienced by Britain's boys.
The report, How Fair is Britain?, reveals evidence of boys in their early years slipping behind in problem solving and reasoning and then in social and emotional development. By the age of five, 53% had reached the expected level in writing compared with 72% of girls.
Next they underachieve at GCSE, failing to go in such large numbers to university; when they do, they are less likely to gain a 2:1 or a first. It is not just an academic problem – the report finds that boys are also three and a half times more likely to be permanently excluded from school. "A lot of boys feel they do not fit into the way education is now," said Gaynor Sbuttoni, an educational psychologist. She argued that schools placed too much emphasis on skills that boys often struggle with but which were not necessarily relevant in adulthood.
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