Good comprehensive schools are the best way to reverse stagnating social mobility, ahead of any other kind of educational provision, according to a new survey.
Almost half (47 per cent) of the 2,000 people surveyed chose “high-quality teaching in comprehensives” as the best way to help poorer pupils, according to a report on social mobility released by the Sutton Trust today.
That was more than double the proportion who voted for lowering tuition fees, which 23 per cent said would be the best way to enhance pupils’ life chances. The findings came from an Ipsos Mori poll taken in June this year.
The message from experts on the negative effects of academic selection appears to have cut through, too, with just eight per cent of those surveyed saying access to grammar schools was the best method.
Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the public were right to reject the promise of grammar schools and lower tuition fees for better comprehensive schooling.
“By the time you’re worrying about tuition fees it’s often too late to make a big difference to a child’s life chances.
“Clearly the message about selective education has also got through, that it’s for the very few.”
The report found a “growing pessimism” about social mobility in recent years.
In 2008, 53 per cent of respondents said “people have equal opportunities to get ahead”, but in 2017 more people were likely to disagree with the statement. In fact, just 40 per cent still agreed it was true.
Access to private schools for families who couldn’t otherwise afford them was endorsed by only seven per cent of respondents.
Meanwhile, “high-quality nurseries” were supported by a mere four per cent – even though research shows early intervention is vital to narrowing inequality.
The government needs to focus less on opening new free schools and more on supporting and developing comprehensive schools which already existed, Hobby added.
But unless the teacher shortage was addressed, the quality of teaching in comprehensive schools will remain under threat, according to Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
“The big issue of teacher recruitment and retention absolutely does impact on quality,” she said. “It will go from a crisis to a catastrophe quite quickly.”
Better planning of school places for local children also required local authorities to have some of their powers returned to them, she added.