While the comparison between education and health isn’t perfect – pupils spend more time in school than most people are in contact with NHS services – the difference in accountability is still striking.
GPs aren’t held to account using crude data about the health outcomes of their population, such as life expectancy. Practices are instead inspected and rated on the care they deliver – whether it is safe, effective, caring, responsive to people’s needs and well led.
This is a far cry from schools, where figures on outcomes and performance feed into Ofsted inspection judgements and the wider accountability system, with no account made for the socioeconomic factors that influence them.
“You don’t go to a doctor and say ‘your patients are dying young, they don’t seem to value life very much, that’s your fault, make them more interested in living longer’,’’ says James Eldon, principal of Manchester Academy in Moss Side.
Schools will do everything they can to build the aspirations of their pupils, he insists, but adds that there has to be a recognition from government that entrenched, generational poverty can exert a “drag” on these efforts.