With all the support on offer for parents and schools, no child is on a pre-determined path to low results - whatever their background and wherever they go to school
is empty rhetoric. The experience of my own local area is that the schools that get the worst results are those with the most challenging pupils – those who for social and/or intellectual reasons are unlikely to get five good GCSEs. There are schools in this part of Hertfordshire that have first-rate facilities, charismatic headteachers and highly-motivated staff, yet which still struggle to attract bright pupils with academically aspirational parents.
The challenge is how to ensure that schools achieve a balanced intake. This is more easily said than done. Some of those on the left (including Liberal Democrats) are critical of parental choice. Yet for the state to allocate school places regardless of family preference is paternalist social engineering of a kind that liberals should surely not support – although a depressing number seem to do so.
To be fair to the government (although I don’t see why I should be), I can imagine circumstances where the ‘brand image’ of a particular school has become so damaged that renaming, rebuilding, relocating and relaunching under new management might be a way of attracting children from a wider range of backgrounds and abilities.
There are no easy answers, and it is a subject about which all political parties need to do more thinking. But Nick Clegg is on the right track with the pupil premium policy. It has to be better than macho rhetoric that will do little to improve schools, but will further demoralise teachers who have to cope with some of the country’s most difficult children.