Schools must go the extracurricular mile, report argues

24th October 2014 at 01:00
It sets tough targets for helping disadvantaged children to thrive

No school should be judged outstanding by Ofsted unless it offers excellent extracurricular activities, careers advice and work experience, a government-commissioned report has recommended in a bid to improve the life chances of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, led by former Labour minister Alan Milburn, admitted that narrowing the attainment gap between rich and poor children would be "a long, slow, hard battle that will take decades".

But its latest report calls for a raft of ambitious education targets, which it argues will help to solve the issue of stagnant social mobility.

As well as a toughened-up Ofsted regime, the report says that by 2025 no child should leave primary school without reaching expected levels in literacy and numeracy, and that at least half of children eligible for free school meals should achieve a minimum of five good GCSEs by 2020. Top-flight teachers willing to work in challenging schools should also be paid up to 25 per cent more to encourage them to make the move, it adds.

The report's demands will increase pressure on schools, but Mr Milburn had little sympathy for institutions being asked to do more.

"That's what schools are there for," he told TES. "They are there to make sure they produce rounded citizens. I think this debate where people say, `Well, you know, there's too much focus on exam results and there should be more focus on character development' - I think it's not a question of eitheror.

"Some schools manage to do those things while others don't and I think it's not unreasonable to ask if some can, why can't everyone?"

Exacting targets were necessary to ensure that schools strove to narrow the performance gap, he added. "On the key target of the GCSE results, we know that London schools are there already, so it's an entirely doable and achievable target," Mr Milburn said.

The focus should not be solely on GCSE measures, he added. It was important to emphasise the central role of primary schools as engines of social mobility, he explained, because a focus on primaries in the 1990s had led to many of the improvements in London.

Teachers willing to take on the most challenging jobs should be rewarded, according to Mr Milburn. The report calls for the School Teachers' Review Body, which advises on pay, to consider a new pay band for teachers prepared to work in some of the toughest areas.

The document also says that the government should launch a pilot of a new "Teachers Pay Premium", offering a 25 per cent pay rise to 2,000 top teachers if they move to challenging areas.

Mr Milburn cited an earlier report from the commission, called Cracking the Code, which highlighted the fact that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of teachers would be more interested in taking on a role at a challenging school if it involved a salary increase.

"Money was by far and away the biggest factor over all the other stuff that one might have expected. CPD, more training opportunities - all paled into insignificance beside the call for higher pay," he said.

One school singled out for praise in the report - the Park Schools Federation in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire - managed to get all children to a level 4 or above in key stage 2 Sats last year, despite 47 per cent being eligible for the pupil premium.

Executive headteacher Steve Hewitt-Richards said the commission was right to set ambitious targets on literacy and numeracy, but that instilling good behaviour at his school had been the key to unlocking everything else.

"You have to have outstanding behaviour and high expectations. These are traditional but important values," he said.

"All the staff are pulling in exactly the same direction but they are not automatons. We leave nothing to chance and it is a question of constant vigilance."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT teaching union, said that child poverty continued to have a serious impact on educational attainment.

"Children and young people who arrive at school hungry, who live in poor housing and who cope with the daily struggle of living in households with little money cannot learn as well as they could and should," she said.

Read the commission's latest report,State of the Nation 2014: social mobility and child poverty in Great Britain

State of the Nation: recommendations


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