Poor are neglected in rush for results

20th July 2007 at 01:00
Policy change is needed to help disadvantaged children, admits senior government official

a decade of pushing the weakest schools to improve exam results has done little for the country's most disadvantaged pupils, a senior government official has admitted.

Greater tracking of individual pupils, more one-to-one tuition and targets for pupils achieving progress, rather than crossing a certain threshold, will help solve the problem, according to Ralph Tabberer, director general of schools at the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

He said schools at the bottom of the league tables had been able to meet ministers' improvement targets simply by concentrating on their "average" pupils. This suggested that the most disadvantaged pupils could have been neglected.

Mr Tabberer told the Association of Directors of Children's Services meeting in Manchester that the Government should recognise it needed to change policy. There had been a reduction in the number of schools where less than 30 per cent of pupils gained five A*-C GCSEs. But he said that there had not been the same progress in narrowing the gap between the achievements of the most and least disadvantaged.

Mr Tabberer told The TES: "We are wondering whether our policies have been sufficiently granulated to focus on lifting the disadvantaged as well as the advantaged children."

His department had been examining the strategies used by schools at the bottom of the league table to raise their exam results. It found it was possible to break the 30 per cent five A*-C GCSE barrier just by focusing on the "average" pupils, Mr Tabberer said.

Andy Buck, head of Jo Richardson community school in Dagenham, Essex, said: "It's refreshing that Ralph Tabberer is prepared to stand up for students who can most easily be overlooked. The focus on A*-C grades can mean the most disadvantaged youngsters are not always seen as worth targeting."

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this week paints a picture of England as a divided nation: the gap between rich and poor is the widest for 40 years. Official figures show that poor, white boys are performing worse than any other racial group apart from Travellers.

Ed Balls, Secretary for Children, Schools and Families, has stressed his desire to help the neediest pupils since being appointed.

Leading article, page 26

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