There is no vicious circle of decline

25th August 2000 at 01:00
I AM writing in response to the article "United we stand to gain" by Kate Myers (TES, August 4).

While applauding Professor Myers' conclusions about the potential benefits of co-operation between community schools, I would like to correct the impression given earlier in her piece about schools in a "vicious circle" of decline.

She claims, as have other commentators, that "forcing schools to compete with one another for pupils" using raw-score performance indicators leads to increasing polarisation between schools.

She further claims that some schools have improved their results simply by changing the nature of their intake.

The effect of this would be apparent in less popular schools, which would have to take an increasing proportion of pupils with difficulties and disadvantages, generally leading to poorer results and the further loss of "parents with aspirations".

However, this has not actually happened.

I do not know what her data source is, but the annual school census to Department for Education and Employment and the Welsh Office puts the matter beyond reasonable doubt.

The past decade has seen an increase in pupil numbers coupled with a decline in the number of schools in England and Wales.

This means that schools are now, on average, considerably larger.

While this increase varis by authority and school, we have found only one school in the whole of England that has ended the decade both with fewer pupils and a consistently greater proportion of disadvantage in terms of free school meals.

Of course, free meals have limitations as a measure of poverty (which is why we also use social class, first language, ethnicity and special needs figures where they are available), but it is interesting to speculate what indicators Professor Myers has used instead to make her bold claims.

Two further reasons for the relative stasis among school numbers and compositions could be the socially segregated nature of urban residence, and the part played by local education authorities in managing school sizes.

In fact, this last could be a very important finding from our own research given the current debate about the purpose of LEAs.

Managing school rolls by opening and closing schools, redrawing boundaries, revising allocation procedures and the like are an essential, and necessarily local, task.

If LEAs were abolished, something equivalent might have to be created or else the vision that Professor Myers claims is already happening might come to pass.

Stephen Gorard

Cardiff University School of

Social Sciences

Glamorgan Building

King Edward VII Avenue

Cardiff


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