Poorer children and those in care lag too far behind youngsters from middle class homes. Politicians are putting pressure on local schools to improve their GCSE performance.
The matter has come up twice in a few weeks and was the subject of a heated debate at Brighton Town Hall on Thursday night (26 March). The occasion was the final council meeting before the local elections in May.
Conservative education spokesman Andrew Wealls criticised the Green Party for lacking ambition for the poor and the marginalised – those they say they represent.
Councillor Wealls said that they had spoken about reducing the gap in performance but had fallen a long way short. And he accused Labour of failing to say what they would do.
At an earlier meeting Councillor Wealls said that the performance of Longhill and Varndean School in particular was appalling.
Referring to those who qualify for free school meals, he said: “We’re almost in the realms of nine out of ten kids in those schools not getting GCSEs in English and maths. That performance is really dreadful and unacceptable.”
And Councillor Wealls wrote recently: “We should hang our heads in shame!
“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.”
Labour Anne Pissaridou told the council’s last Children and Young People Committee meeting: “Can I just endorse what Andrew said about those schools.
“I’m just worried that there hasn’t been any improvement in these schools and I know money has been put in.”
Councillor Sue Shanks, who chairs the committee, said: “Local authorities don’t control schools. We need to throw it back to schools.
“We had a conference recently when BACA (the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy) shared some of what it was doing.”
And she added: “Nobody’s complacent about this.”
Jo Lyons, assistant director of children’s services, told the committee: “At every one of our schools, closing the gap is our top priority.”
She said that every single school had a strategy to improve the performance of children on frees school meals in their crucial exams. And she added: “A lot of work is going on with governors.”
Bevendean Primary School and Hove Park School have both received ministerial letters of congratulation from the Department for Education for the progress that they have made in closing the gap.