The trouble is, there are no magic wands in education-policy making. But one trick that the Prime Minister should dedicate himself to pulling off is to get more of the best teachers in front of the most disadvantaged students.
High-quality tuition can add up to 18 months of learning to a disadvantaged pupil, compared with six months from an inadequate teacher – it means a good teacher makes a whole year’s difference when it comes to a child learning.
Perversely, at present children from less advantaged backgrounds get less access to good teaching. According to Ofsted, 36 per cent of children in deprived areas are taught in secondary schools that are inadequate or require improvement. Only 13 per cent per cent receive “outstanding” teaching.
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are simply far less likely to experience an excellent education than their better-off peers.
It’s clear that something must be going wrong when research by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) shows that low-ability children from wealthy families overtake high-ability children from poor families during school.
To correct the imbalance, Government should create a fast-stream for teachers, akin to the civil service scheme. The aim would be to place young teachers in senior positions quickly. In return for the promise of a turbo-charged career and rapid promotion, these education fast-streamers would have to spend some years teaching in a disadvantaged school.
From this a new cadre of school leaders would grow, who are also much needed; Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, reckons one in four of current secondary school headteachers are not up to the job.
The Government should also make a priority of grasping the nettle of teachers’ pay reform. Last year’s SMCPC survey of 1,000 teachers found that better salaries would be a powerful incentive to get more of them teaching in the most challenging schools.
For decades, national pay systems have rewarded teachers equally, whether they teach in a wealthy leafy suburb or a depressed coastal town.
Academy schools were given the freedom to set their own pay rates, but by 2012 two-thirds of them hadn’t done so. It is time to change tack and the Government should ask the School Teachers Pay Review Body to address this.
One thing is certain: it will be impossible to improve social mobility until the educational attainment gap between less well-off and better-off children is closed.
Study after study has come to the same conclusion.
Time spent in education is the most important determinant of future social status and success in schools is the most important factor determining social mobility.
The UK’s future success in a globally competitive economy relies on using all of our country’s talent not just some of it. Mr Cameron should make that the defining cause of his government.
12 Jul 2015
Alan Milburn is chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission