An increasingly fragmented schools system is preventing primaries from responding effectively to growing diversity in the classroom, according to researchers from the University of Manchester.
Their report, commissioned by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust, concludes that national policies, such as greater school autonomy and the erosion of local authority capacity, are creating further levels of segregation within the English primary education system, with children from minority and economically poorer backgrounds most affected.
It argues that the education system is failing to build on and share best practice, and blames narrowly focused national testing and schools increasingly working in isolation.
Schools are divided
Professor Mel Ainscow, co-author of the report, 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.
"While 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 researchers found that between 2005 and 2015 the proportion of primary children who were not white British rose from 19.3 per cent to 30.4 per cent – with 81 per cent of pupils in inner London classed as minority ethnic in 2015.
Over the same period, the proportion of children with English as an additional language rose from 11.6 per cent to 19.4 per cent.
And in 2005, nine out of the top 10 local authorities with the highest percentage of children eligible for free school meals were in inner London, but by 2015 only four out of 10 were – suggesting a change to the distribution of poverty around England.
Professor Alan Dyson, another co-author of the report, said it was not new for schools have to find ways of educating children from very different backgrounds within the same classroom. But the speed of current changes meant schools faced extra challenges.
The researchers found the support network for schools was lacking, with schools more likely to be working in isolation, or as part of academy chains, federations and other networks that might not provide effective support.
"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.
The report was written by Professor Mel Ainscow and Professor Alan Dyson, co-directors of Manchester’s Centre for Equity in Education, and their colleagues Dr Lise Hopwood and Stephanie Thomson, and is based on an analysis of recent research.