Drew Povey – Executive Headteacher of Harrop Fold School, which featured in the Channel 4 series Educating Greater Manchester – argues that state-educated children need to be given more opportunities
The recent report by the BBC about its high percentage of staff having been privately educated raises the age-old question of class and social mobility.
According to the BBC’s internal findings, 17 per cent of all BBC employees went to private school – more than double the national average of seven per cent. When it comes to management positions, that figure is 24 per cent – a statistic that the Corporation regards as unacceptable and wants to change.
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Ofcom’s chief executive Sharon White also believes that all UK broadcasters need to consider social factors – not just ethnicity and gender – when tackling the problems of diversity and making sure that TV screens show all of Britain, and that all of Britain helps makes the programmes. This is both sensible and overdue. But what actually is the issue? Is it that state education isn’t offering what modern employers are looking for? Is it that employers are swayed by a Russell Group university on an applicant’s CV? Is there a simple answer? I suspect not.
Large corporate organisations very often now have annual targets for recruitment and retention focused on gender equality and fair representation of ethnic groups. Class mobility is, however, often overlooked.
The BBC is right to be flagging this as an issue that needs to be highlighted. The Government’s education statisticians maintain that “white working class” is the hardest-to-reach group in the UK. My question is always: do we really understand why it is that this cohort of our population underperforms?
Alex Mahon, the new chief executive of Channel 4, recently used Educating Greater Manchester to illustrate that there are still “forgotten” areas of the UK and that portraying them can be gritty without being depressing.
What I can be certain of is that state-funded schools are all facing issues of funding shortages, very prescriptive curriculums and rising challenges pertaining to social and mental issues in young people – regardless of class or socio-economic background. It doesn’t take Einstein’s offspring to work out why teacher recruitment is down by a third!
So while I applaud the BBC’s decision to comprehensively review their staffing quotas and explore ways to tip the balance more fairly in terms of non-privately educated employees, I know that state schools need to address how they can offer wider opportunities to students to prepare them for the competitive workplace.
We believe at Harrop Fold that a key aspect of our students’ education is the building of aspiration. Harrop Fold has never been an exam factory and we have always had a strong focus on the social and personal aspects of education. We do this within the constraints of a curriculum and examinations system that needs constant monitoring to ensure it is fit for purpose.
And while there are enormous challenges, it is right that in striving to achieve equality of opportunity that the difference between state and private education is factored in. Achieving good exam results in a class of 30 or more is invariably going to be more challenging than in private schools with smaller classrooms and better facilities.
Preparing young people for the real world is the task of all educators, and every child, regardless of their circumstances, deserves the best opportunities possible.