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Futures College boss: Talents are overshadowed by class
A COLLEGE boss claims youngsters from poorer backgrounds have been “neglected” in Southend because of its grammar schools.
Neil Bates, chief executive of Prospects Learning, which co-runs Futures College, in Southchurch Boulevard, Southend, said the town’s children had been let down by the selective system.
He said grammar schools, whose academic results are higher than other schools, disproportionately include more pupils from wealthier backgrounds, excluding many from less affluent backgrounds.
Mr Bates said: “Education is the ladder which allows young people to escape poverty and improve life chances and in an area like Southend, with its selective grammar schools, the poorest young people have been sadly neglected. The national statistics show a child going to a school where less than five per cent of children receive free school meals – these are the poorest 15 per cent of families in England – has a 75 per cent chance of gaining five GCSEs at grades A-C.
“A child going to a school where more than 45 per cent of children receive free school meals has only a 25 per cent chance of getting five good GCSE passes.
“In grammar schools, fewer than five per cent of children receive free school meals. At Futures, the figure is more than 40 per cent.
“My conclusion is the school you go to, and the outcomes that you achieve, are still heavily determined by your social class and the financial circumstances of your parents, not the individual ability, effort, talent or intellect. This is morally wrong.”
Mr Bates said Futures College, which wants to become an academy, was aiming to “change the odds for poor kids”, to provide high-quality education and skills for all young people regardless of their background.
He added: “We believe passionately that young people, especially those facing poverty and disadvantage, deserve a decent education and a fair chance.”
ANDREW Baker, head of Westcliff High School for Boys, one of Southend’s four grammar schools, said he agreed with much of what Mr Bates said.
He said three per cent of the school’s intake gets free school meals against a Southend average of 18 per cent.
Mr Baker said: “Education figures nationally show a correlation between family poverty and pupils’ achievements.
“That’s quite independent of the existence of grammar schools, but it’s something grammar schools are concerned about.
“We want to expand our opportunities, we want to open our doors to provide a welcome to able children from the very poorest backgrounds, as well as from other backgrounds.
“Our difficulty at times is having children from poorer backgrounds come forward and take the opportunities which are there.”
Mr Baker said Westcliff High is working with Southend primary schools to try to encourage more disadvantaged children to take the 11-plus by letting them visit his school and meet others who have succeeded from a similar background.
GRAMMAR schools help improve social mobility says a former Westcliff High School for Boys pupil.
Owen Churton, pictured right, is studying at Cambridge University and lives in Bishopsteignton, Shoebury.
The 20-year-old said: “The main reason why grammar schools are good is because of social mobility.
“That’s why they were initially established, so students with ability from all backgrounds could achieve a quality education. I feel nowadays they seem embarrassing relics of the past, but I think they have a very clear part to play in today’s education system.
“You can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach in education. Grammar schools are not for everyone, but at the same time, they do need to exist with strong comprehensive schools.
“Westcliff High provided me with opportunities I wouldn’t necessarily have got elsewhere.
“They shouldn’t just be seen as a free alternative to private schools, and are not just the preserve of the middle classes. They’re free and open to all.
“Westcliff was not a posh school, though this myth puts people off.”
Owen said he agreed with his old head Andrew Baker there can sometimes be a failure of aspiration from some disadvantaged families to seize the opportunity of grammar schools.
He added: “It’s the responsibility of primary schools to encourage all those children who could do well at grammar schools to take the test.”