A Conservative councillor has criticised the “scandalous” inequalities which are failing the poorest pupils in secondary schools in Brighton and Hove.
His comments came as the council’s Annual Standards Report on school performance is due to be presented to the Children and Young People Committee at Hove Town Hall tomorrow afternoon (Monday 12 January).
Councillor Wealls said: “At (the) Children and Young People Committee, councillors will again discuss the depressing level of underachievement by our city’s poorest children in GCSE exams.
“While Brighton and Hove’s secondary schools fail to meet national average percentage of key stage 4 pupils attaining five good GCSEs including English and Maths, only one in five young people in receipt of free school meals will achieve this vital threshold.
“We should hang our heads in shame!
“Yet the fact that four in five of our poorest children leave school without these core qualifications barely raises a shrug of the shoulders among our city’s politicians and media.
“While the Green administration’s 2011 election slogan was ‘fair is worth fighting for’ made a great soundbite, it’s hard to reconcile this with their apparent indifference to the education of our poorest children.
“The potential academy conversion of Hove Park School had Greens marching in our streets yet where are the howls of protest at this basic inequality?
“It’s true we have seen the belated publication of a ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy in 2013 and perhaps it is too early to judge whether some of the initiatives are bearing fruit.
“However, the government has certainly ensured funds are available to schools through the pupil premium and the council’s own funding formula also devotes increased support to children in receipt of free school meals. So funding is not the issue.
“There are academy chains in England, such as ARK, which manage to perform much better than the national average for all pupils while delivering outstanding results for their poorer students.
“Around three in five pupils in receipt of free school meals achieve five good GCSEs including English and Maths – three times the proportion in Brighton and Hove.
“Three years ago I asked Labour and Green colleagues to speak to ARK after I had visited them and met their chief executive but they refused.
“Such is their close-minded hostility to academy chains we missed a vital opportunity to learn from them, and maybe solve our secondary school places crisis at the same time, had they set up a school in Brighton and Hove.
“A Conservative administration would be keen to fully engage with groups like ARK with a mission to close this gap.
“Local secondary schools are grasping the nettle through participation with Challenge Partners where peers are invited to present a ‘warts and all’ view of a school to its senior management team and governors to support improvement.
“Again, time will tell whether the initiative will bear fruit but there are good reasons to believe this challenge could be very helpful.
“We do also need a renewed political focus on the performance of our secondary schools, with a particular scrutiny and challenge on the performance of our most vulnerable and poorest children.
“That means being open with the data so that parents can challenge too.
“We need to make sure all parents get the information they need about a school’s performance and that councillors receive detailed, timely, school-specific reports, preferably in public, so performance issues are identified as soon as possible.
“And our local media needs to take centre stage too by raising the public profile of school performance.
“It is only by shining a spotlight on this most basic and scandalous of inequalities that we stand a chance of giving the city’s children and young people the education that they truly deserve.”