“A boon to be sparingly conferred upon the multitude…”

I spent much of yesterday afternoon working on a presentation for school governors on the links between child poverty and educational attainment. Serendipitously, yesterday was also the day that the OECD published its 2012 Education at a Glance report. The country notes for the United Kingdom make some interesting comments, including:

The socio-economic composition of UK schools poses significant challenges for disadvantaged students as well as students with an immigrant background: 80% of students with an immigrant background attend schools with a high percentage of immigrant students. Even immigrant students with highly-educated mothers are more than twice as likely to be in disadvantaged schools as non-immigrant students.

No country saw a steeper increase in spending on tertiary education than the UK, but most of that was funded from private sources.

The impact of socio-economic background on student performance at age 15 remains moderate to strong in the UK, depending on the methodology used for measurement. This signals significant scope for improvement.

In 2011, schools in England had the greatest decision-making authority, after the Netherlands, among all OECD countries (35 percentage points higher than the OECD average) in 2011

The average public primary school class has about 26 students, more than the OECD average of 21 students per class. But private institutions in the UK have significantly smaller classes of around 12 students

(my emphases)

The above table from p17 of the report shows that the UK ranks 24th out of 32 countries in terms of the % of total public expenditure which is spent on education – 11.3% against and OECD average of 13%. The table also notes that the UK ranks 4th out of 30 countries when the share of private expenditure on educational institutions in measured – with 31.1% against an OECD average of 16%. Excluding tertiary education (and therefore tuition fees) the figures for the UK are 21.3% against an OECD average of  8.8%, putting us in 3rd place behind Chile and South Korea. So nearly 22% of funding for primary, secondary and post secondary, non-tertiary education in the UK comes from private sources and, almost certainly, goes mainly to private institutions.

I was also reading an article by Diane Reay yesterday afternoon called ‘The Zombie Stalking English Schools: Social class and educational inequality’. In it she raises concerns about the ability of the education system to ‘positively address social class in the classroom when contemporary initial teacher training rarely engages with it as a relevant concern within schooling’ which is something we are interested in, especially given the profile of organisations such as Teach First in the new educational landscape*. She also provides a quote  from William Lovett, a working class campaigner and Chartist, from 1837 which I thought was very approrpiate given the launch of the report yesterday:

Possessors of wealth … still consider education as their own prerogative, or a boon to be sparingly conferred upon the mulittude instead of a universal instrument for advancing the dignity of man and for gladdening his existence.

Best wishes,


*Another interesting (and short) paper related to the issue of teacher education which I was sent recently is It’s Not the Culture of Poverty, It’s the Poverty of Culture: The Problem with Teacher Education, by Gloria Ladson-Billings

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