Prime minister accused of 'scapegoating' teachers over inequality in schools

3rd October 2017 at 17:58
Prime Minister Theresa May
Britain's biggest teaching union says more funding is needed for schools if government is "serious about creating an equal society"

Theresa May has been accused of "scapegoating" schoolteachers, in an attack by the nation's largest teaching union. The NEU's remarks were prompted by a speech made by the prime minister today about the role of public services in tackling inequalities.

Next week, the government will release an audit of public services in what it describes as “the most extensive review of its kind ever undertaken”. The audit is aimed at highlighting racial and socioeconomic disparities and showing how outcomes in areas such as education, health, employment and the criminal justice system differ owing to background, class, gender and income.

Mrs May said: “In doing this groundbreaking work, we are holding a mirror up to our society. The idea itself is not new – Charles Booth’s maps of rich and poor areas in Victorian London drew attention to hardship that was too often hidden – but this focus on how ethnicity affects people’s lives will present findings that are uncomfortable.”

Initial findings relating to education reveal that more than nine in ten headteachers are white British, and that white pupils from state schools had the lowest university entry rate in 2016. The audit will also show how almost a quarter of Chinese pupils who were studying for A levels or equivalent, attained at least three A grades at A level and almost three out of five went to university last year, making them twice as likely to have gone to university compared with white pupils.

The audit will reveal a complex picture. It will also show significant disparities between different ethnic minority groups and also big differences in outcomes for these groups in different parts of the country.

It will show statistics ranging from where in the UK young black children perform best in school to whether white teenagers are more or less likely to smoke.  The findings will be published on a website, Ethnicity Facts and Figures, which will go live next Tuesday.

“My most fundamental political belief is that how far you go in life should be based on your talent and how hard you work - and nothing else. Britain has come a long way in my lifetime in spreading equality and opportunity, but this audit will be definitive evidence of how far we must still go in order to truly build a country that works for everyone,” the prime minister said.

But Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, accused the prime minister of “conflating a range of issues without a meaningful or robust strategy.”

“Schools and colleges can, of course, play their part in a strategy to reduce inequality, given the right context. Yet is it deeply misleading to scapegoat public services, at a time when the Government’s public policy decisions are directly responsible for widening inequality and pushing more families and children into poverty," she said.

And she added that if the government was serious about creating an equal society “it needs to invest in schools, colleges and local children’s services.”

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