Tuesday 5th of December 2017

A lack of good teachers is hitting the UK’s poorest children hardest

A good education should be a stepping stone to a better life. But many children from the UK’s most disadvantaged areas will never have the chance of attending a high-performing school, or learning from a high-quality teacher, according to a new report by the country’s official Social Mobility Commission.

In its State of the Nation report released this week, the Commission warned of dramatic differences in social mobility for people from disadvantaged backgrounds – including a growing divide between the Greater London area and the rest of the country. The Commission’s findings show that a lack of access to quality education is only widening the gap between rich and poor across the UK.

The last decade has seen a growing disparity in educational attainment across the country for children on free school meals. Less than 40% of such pupils achieve grades A* to C in GCSE English and maths, far below the 67% average for England. While investment and funding has transformed the schools in some of London’s poorest neighbourhoods, many of the UK’s other regions have been left behind. Children from communities in the UK’s former manufacturing heartlands and the country’s remote rural and coastal areas perform particularly badly.

Today, a child from a deprived background has a better chance of going to a good school in London than anywhere else in the country. Remarkably, the Commission also found that children from poor families are likely to have better social mobility in deprived districts in London than elsewhere – a child from a deprived background will have better social mobility in London’s east end than in an affluent country town.

There’s a clear reason why deprived and remote areas outside of London are performing so badly: a lack of good teachers. Schools in such areas are much less likely to be able to attract qualified educators and to keep good teachers on the books. Today, more than one in five schools in the UK’s former industrial heartlands either has a vacancy or temporarily filled post, while a secondary school teacher in the most deprived areas is 70% more likely to leave. The result is an increasingly chronic teaching shortage in schools in the UK’s poorest areas, depressing children’s attainment and social mobility.

The Commission has urged the UK government to grant regional authorities more responsibilities to both manage the supply of teachers and develop incentives to attract teachers into deprived areas. Another factor policy makers should also consider is the middling respect enjoyed by UK teachers today. Research by The Varkey Foundation into the global status of teachers has found that the teachers in Britain enjoy only moderate respect compared to other countries – and that most respondents believed that teachers are paid more than they actually are. A recent survey of the professions most trusted by the British public, commissioned by the Department of Education as part of NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey, also saw respondents rank teachers just third out of a list of seven professions.

The Varkey Foundation is now planning new research to study the effects that the status of teachers has on recruitment and retention. It may be that bolstering respect for teachers, particularly those in deprived and isolated areas, is a key piece of the puzzle. At the very least, the teachers working in some of the country’s poorest classrooms should be celebrated, not forgotten.

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