UK schools increasingly divided by income disparity

Girl Studying
UK children are increasingly divided by class and income.

While many education systems around the world are dealing with the shockwaves of the global recession, and the effects it’s having on their budgets, schools in the United Kingdom are facing another financial issue. Union leaders in the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) are warning that many schools in the UK are becoming increasingly divided along lines of class or income, with the poorest students being left without peers from other economic classes.

Mary Bousted, general secretary for the ATL, said, “We have schools for the elite; schools for the middle class and schools for the working class. Too few schools have mixed intakes, where children can learn those intangible life skills of aspiration, effort and persistence from one another.”

She went on to say, “The effect of unbalanced school intakes is toxic for the poorest and most distressed. And whilst teachers and school leaders strain every sinew in these schools to raise aspiration and achievement, they struggle always against the effects of poverty, ill health and depravation and children in these schools routinely fail to make the educational progress achieved by their more advantaged peers.”

The ATL union strongly condemns the actions of the current coalition government, with Dr. Bousted claiming the government was using claims of low expectations as a “convenient scapegoat” and ignoring the real issues of class segregation. The UK government has cut public spending on education by 14.4% for the 2014-2015 school year compared to the 2011-2012 academic year according to a report last October by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

“In the world of Michael Gove, the education secretary, and Nick Gibb, the schools minister, it is the school and only the school that holds the responsibility for the educational outcomes of the poor. If the poor don’t make as much progress as the rich, it is the school and the teachers … who are to blame … It is a lie which conveniently enables ministers to evade responsibility for the effects of their policies,” Bousted said in a recent conference.  

“Schools cannot vanquish these inequalities; they can ameliorate them, but in vastly unequal societies only the brightest will escape the lasting effects on inequality.”