School meals data 'hopelessly unfair'

21st March 2003 at 00:00
POVERTY is certainly associated with the below-average performance of the depressingly high proportion of children in England affected by it.

Fortunately, there is a sufficiently large number of high-performing children from very poor homes to make any form of sociological determinism misplaced. The associated characteristics of poverty and low performance are a call for action rather than an excuse for anything (TES, March 7).

Comparing schools with about the same proportion of children entitled to free meals is a chancy business. To take a free meals entitlement of 40 per cent or so, a school's outcomes will largely depend on the characteristics of the remaining 60 per cent.

I know of such schools in London where, within that 60 per cent, there is a fair number of children with parents who have incomes in six figures.

Comparing outcomes of schools like that with others down the road where nearly all the parents hover just above the free meals entitlement level is, like most comparisons between schools based on inadequate data, hopelessly unfair.

Well-led schools certainly make a difference; but outcomes at any school largely depend on the attainment of all the children, rich or poor, entering it. And on the support the parents of those children find it possible to give them, both before, or during, their school life.

Sir Peter Newsam

164 Coombe Road


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