Wealth wins top marks

21st May 1999 at 01:00
Schools with poorer pupils are likely to get worse teaching grades than richer neighbours, reports Sarah Cassidy

POVERTY is the best predictor of inspection grades, according to an analysis of more than two years of figures from the Office for Standards in Education.

Teaching, management and school ethos are consistently judged to be better in secondary schools with wealthier pupils. Those who teach many pupils on free meals are statistically unlikely to get a favourable inspection grade, judging by OFSTED's latest performance and assessment data, it is claimed.

The analysis, which is disputed by OFSTED, is based on figures that show that only 4 per cent of schools where more than a third of pupils received free school meals were given the top grade for quality of education. Meanwhile, one in three comprehensives with less than 5 per cent of poorer children was judged to provide an excellent education in between April 1996 and July 1998.

Schools serving areas of poverty were up to 15 times more likely to be judged badly managed as those in wealthier areas. Fewer than one in five was found to provide a very good educational climate compared to more than three-quarters of wealthier comprehensives.

Karl Turner, deputy headteacher of Byng Kenrick central school in Birmingham, who carried out the analysis, said: "The figures show that most schools in challenging socio-economic environments appear to be doomed to be damned by reports which are incapable of recognising teaching effort, quality, competence, commitment and resilience."

While there is a correlation between the socio-economic indicators of a school's catchment area and exam success, it was not possible that schools in poorer areas were full of weak teachers and bad managers who produced dismal academic climates, he said.

"An alternative interpretation might be that the very structure and processes of OFSTED inspections make it almost inevitable that such schools will receive poor reports.

"The undoubted competence and commitment that exists within such schools will fail to be recognised by the inspection process and therefore by the public," said Mr Turner.

Last year, OFSTED figures revealed that failing primary schools were overwhelmingly those in areas with high levels of poverty.

An OFSTED spokesman dismissed the analysis as simplistic and wrong. "Inspection is not about making assumptions. The hypothesis that a school gets a poor inspection because of its area is absolute nonsense. Inspectors recognise good teaching whether they see it in Reigate or Toxteth."

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