Local dialogue on education reforms to inform DfE free schools policy
Community members and local education practitioners requested clarity on new education reforms, specifically how free schools will benefit disadvantaged pupils, at a ROTA community event on Thursday 15 September.
Participants also agreed on a number of recommendations to be taken forward to the Department for Education. Keep an eye on our website, www.rota.org.uk, for more information on the outcome of these discussions.
Free school benefit to disadvantaged communities questioned
The free schools agenda is coming at a high price to some communities that already face educational disadvantage, according to interim research by Race on the Agenda (ROTA).
There are signs that local communities are already losing out.
Twenty voluntary organisations, providing services to vulnerable groups including refugees and homeless people for the past 30 years, are set to be displaced from Palingswick House by the West London Free School. Additionally, Ark Bolingbroke Academy, another new school, has had a rethink following criticism for initially drawing boundaries for its feeder schools that excluded a nearby primary school on an estate that has high levels of deprivation.
The full extent of the free school impact on disadvantaged pupils remains unknown. This is due in large part to a lack of information and transparency on free schools and the criteria by which successful applications are judged.
Despite a number of Freedom of Information requests, the Department for Education has yet to provide specific information on the application process, the reasons for progression/rejection of applications and the equality impacts of new schools.
In September, the first 23 free schools opened. The free schools programme is a new initiative by the Coalition Government that aims to give parents, teachers and others that are interested the chance to create new schools where they are unhappy with the choice of schooling available to their children.
In June, ROTA initiated research on free schools policy to determine if BAME communities that face inequalities in education are benefiting from the Coalition Government’s free schools project. It sought to examine the level of involvement of BAME communities as proposers, leaders, governors, staff and pupils in successful and unsuccessful free school projects; and ascertain the degree to which equality is considered in the development and delivery of education services through free schools.
ROTA, however, faced barriers in conducting the project due to restrictions being placed by the Department for Education on the amount of information available in the public domain about free schools. Consequently, we were unable to produce concrete findings as to whether BAME communities are engaging in free schools, and whether equality is being proactively considered in service. We did find, however, that there are signs of potential inequality emerging, which need to be explored further.
In particular, in September 2011 we reported the following:
A number of instances have been identified where successful free school projects are having a negative impact on vulnerable BAME communities. It has been impossible to determine if such detrimental impacts are widespread and systemic due to restrictions on the information about free schools that is in the public domain.
It is not possible to tell the level of involvement of BAME communities in free schools due to lack of transparency on free schools, with the little information available unable to answer key questions about who is in charge of the free school and what their specific policies are. The limited information that is available from free schools indicates that particularly disadvantaged BAME communities are not engaged as proposers, governors and staff of many free schools.
It is not possible to tell the degree to which equalities are being considered in the planning and development of free schools’ services due to restrictions by the Department for Education on the information about free schools that is in the public domain. The limited information that is available from free schools indicates that, while schools are making positive statements about equalities, this is not being followed through in policy and practice.
It was ROTA's concern about risks that the Coalition's free schools project could make existing educational inequalities worse that led to us initiating our free schools research. Similar policy initiatives in the US and Sweden have led to ethnically and socio-economically segregated school systems in many local areas, with huge gaps in the quality of education.
Read our latest press release about Free Schools here. To find out more about our Free Schools Monitoring Project please contact Barbara Nea, Senior Policy Officer on e: firstname.lastname@example.org or t: 020 7842 8531.
On 5th September Dr Elizabeth Henry, ROTA’s Chief Executive was interviewed by Henry Bonsu on Colourful Radio.
Children’s Commissioner Inquiry into child sexual exploitation
ROTA invites our members to contribute to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner 2011 Inquiry into children’s experiences of sexual exploitation linked to gangs and groups. As a member of the advisory group to the Inquiry, ROTA will be feeding in findings from our Female Voice and Violence project, highlighting the impact of serious youth violence on girls under 18. We will also submit evidence from our recent work with MiNet, detailing the impact of reduced public funding on child abuse levels in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. If you are aware of emerging or undocumented issues of relevance to the Inquiry, please contact Barbara Nea, Senior Policy Officer, ROTA, on e: email@example.com or t: 020 7842 8531.
Social Mobility and Child Poverty Review - call for evidence
The Government has appointed Alan Milburn as Independent Reviewer of Social Mobility and Child Poverty, pending the establishment of a statutory Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission next year. The Commission will be issuing its first report to Parliament in Spring next year.
ROTA believes more consideration should be given to understanding and responding to the ‘ethnic penalty’ within policy making related to child poverty.
Certain groups of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children and young people are overrepresented among the most disadvantaged socio-economic groups in our society, facing greatest health inequalities, poorest educational outcomes and so on. The link between ethnicity and socio-economic disadvantage is not straight forward. Higher poverty rates among BAME groups are not simply related to the higher proportions of families which we know are at higher risk of poverty. Research has shown there is an ‘ethnic penalty’ associated with poverty. That is, measurable factors which we know are linked to differences in poverty risks – such as employment status and family structure – alone cannot explain ethnic differences in poverty. There are additional, ‘unexplained’ differences, which are linked to ethnicity.
Not enough consideration has been given to understanding and responding to this inequality within policy making related to child poverty. As such, if you work with BAME communities that face socio-economic disadvantage we encourage you to use evidence from your work to inform this review.
To find out more please see here. The closing date for submissions is 16th October.
If you would like support form ROTA in doing this please contact Barbara Nea, Senior Policy Officer on e: 020 7842 8531 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more, please follow this link.
In February, ROTA responded to ‘Tackling Child Poverty and Improving Life Chances’, the Government’s draft child poverty strategy. We urged Government to identify the ‘ethnic penalty’ as contributing to poverty of BAME individuals within the child poverty strategy and to take appropriate measures to address it. Our response can be read here.
To find out more please click here. The closing date for submissions is 16th October.