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Think tank criticises academies system for entrenching social inequality


  • Paper released by Centre for Labour and Social Studies claims academies and free schools prioritise socially-advantaged pupils
  • Foremost education academic Professor Stephen Ball calls for scrapping of GCSEs and A-Levels
  • Current system resembles the system of education pre-1870

Contact: Ellie O’Hagan
M: 0207 611 2571

A new policy paper published today [Thursday] by the think-tank, Centre for Labour and Social Studies, argues that Michael Gove’s academies and free schools system is entrenching social inequality amongst Britain’s socially-disadvantaged pupils, and calls for a radical overhaul of the education system – a new ‘back to basics’. The paper is published on the same day as the country’s schools are hit by a fresh wave of teacher strikes over pay, pensions and conditions.

The paper, “Education, Justice and Democracy: The struggle over ignorance and opportunity,” examines changes and continuities in the education system since the 1944 Education Act, and the consequences of these for socially-disadvantaged students.

The publication of the paper comes in the same week as newly-appointed Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt expressed concerns to Michael Gove over his free schools initiative, described by Hunt as “a dangerous ideological experiment which has been allowed to run completely out of control."

The paper notes that academies take on 12.5% fewer students eligible for Free School Meals than the schools they have replaced, and sites evidence indicating that academies are failing low-income pupils.
The paper also highlights the continuing relationship between educational achievement and social disadvantage, noting:

  • State-school students of equivalent academic attainment at the age of 15 are twice as likely to reach higher education if their parents went to university
  • 66% of teens from the richest fifth of society going to university compared with just 24% of the poorest fifth.
  • In the top 500 comprehensives, 7.6% of children are eligible for Free School Meals compared with the national average of 16.5%.
  • The passing of responsibility from state to private sector has created a patchy education system resembling that of the 1870s.

The paper calls for radical changes to the education system in order to return to a system which educates a whole child, instead of concentrating on standardised testing and performance. This includes the scrapping of GCSEs and A Levels in favour of a US-style grade average system.

The paper also argues that students, teachers, parents and local communities should have a greater stake in decisions made about local schools, with the establishment of a network of educative, democratic ‘common schools’ which serve local communities. The paper also recommends an improvement in the way schools are linked to into wider anti-poverty strategies in order to address social disadvantage.

Professor Stephen Ball, the paper’s author said: "Despite the relentless and repeated criticism of state schooling and ongoing reform, the relationships between opportunity, achievement and social class have remained stubbornly entrenched and have been reproduced by policy.

The increase of academies and free schools over the last three years is demonstrably failing low-attaining pupils.
“It is time to get back to basics – to think seriously about what is the purpose of education and what it means to be educated, what schools are for, and crucially who should decide these things.”

– ENDS –

Notes to Editors:

1. The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) is a new think tank established in 2012 by Unite the Union, GMB and the Institute of Employment Rights to act as a centre for left debate and discussion and has the growing support of a number of trade Unions including ASLEF, CWU, GFTU, NUT, PCS, TSSA, UCATT, MU and NUM. Originating in the labour movement, Class is working with a broad coalition of supporters, academics and experts to develop and advance alternative policies for today.
2. A Social State for 2015 is the first high-profile project launched by Class and looks at what Beveridge’s 1942 analysis of society can teach us about the Giant Evils of today. ‘Education, justice and democracy: The struggle over ignorance and opportunity’ was commissioned from the author as part of this series to address the Giant Evil of ‘ignorance’ and to propose new policy priorities for education after the next election. More information can be found here:
3. A copy of ‘Education, justice and democracy: The struggle over ignorance and opportunity’ is attached and more information can be found here: The author of the paper:

Professor Stephen Ball is Karl Mannheim Professor of Sociology of Education at the Institute of Education, University of London; and the editor of the Journal of Education Policy.

More information
For further information, articles, interviews or media requests please contact Ellie O’Hagan on or 020 7611 2569.