An ever widening divide

21st April 1995 at 01:00
Rather to our surprise, most of the letters prompted by your report (TES, March 3) on our publication for the Child Poverty Action Group on poverty and education the 1990s. Education Divides describes supposed benefits from the Assisted Places scheme and grant-maintained schools for children from poor families.

When these policies were first introduced, high expectations might have been possible. But we now have to judge them on their actual effects. Both appear to have made only marginal impact at best on the opportunities for such children.

To answer Andrew Turner's specific claims (TES, March 31) about GM schools, these, with some exceptions, are not predominantly to be found in urban disadvantaged areas; nor do they contain, again with exceptions, large numbers of children from low-income families entitled to free meals.

For this reason, and also because some GM schools operate implicit or explicit selection criteria at entry, we would be unwise simply to compare the progress of children on free school meals in GM and non-GM schools, as Andrew Turner does, unless we were sure that they were the same in other important respects. This seems very unlikely.

It would also be reasonable now to judge these two policies by their impact on the rest of the system not just on how well they benefit their own pupils. Otherwise we would be endorsing a sauve qui peut approach to policy evaluation. Our best assessment is that these and other policies have tended to increase the fragmentation and divisions in the educational system. This has made it harder to develop an effective and comprehensive response to the needs of children from low-income families, who make up more than one-third of all children in primary schools. This is the central issue, for which the Assisted Places scheme and GM status are not an answer.

TERESA SMITH, MICHAEL NOBLE

Department of Applied Social Studies and Social Research

University of Oxford

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