Chris Husbands observed in an IOE London blogpost that Michael Gove’s rhetoric was of “a failing school system with some bright lights”, while Ofsted’s evidence is “of a largely effective school system in which the great majority of schools are at least good”. Such tensions are frequently the meat of the Blog and other education commentary.
Policy-makers face a number of tough long-term challenges. Key among them are the role of schools in building community and social cohesion in an increasingly unequal society, and how to secure high levels of both excellence and equity.
Meanwhile, the new school year brings immediate challenges. These include the accountability of free schools and academies, relationships between academies and local authorities and the role of middle-tier agencies, the Department for Education’s tenuous hold on teacher supply, the morale and professional self-respect of teachers, and the reliability and independence of Ofsted.
If the new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and other policy-makers, are to meet these challenges, they must take their legal and moral responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 seriously. These responsibilities are, emphatically, not an add-on – policy-makers cannot deal effectively with the challenges facing schools unless they begin with the Equality Act, and keep it at the very heart of all they do.
This argument is the basis for the special issue of the journal Race Equality Teaching published this month by IOE Press. The journal has focused for 30 years on racial inequality in educational provision but this issue, compiled by a specially convened editorial team led by Robin Richardson and Berenice Miles, also considers disability, gender, religion and belief, sexual identity and transgender issues. The articles are arranged under headings which correspond to the three needs named in Section 149 of the Equality Act: to eliminate discrimination, to advance equality of opportunity, to foster good relations. Put simply, these needs are about treating everyone the same, treating everyone differently if their differences are relevant, and helping people get on with each other.
The journal leads with an article by Sameena Choudry decrying the DFE’s failure to collect and publish relevant information as required by the Equality Act’s specific duties. She calls for the DFE to make available the data about differential outcomes relating to children’s achievement at school and thus their life-chances. Such data needs to be precise; vague categories such as ‘ethnic minority’, or ‘Asian’, or ‘Black African’, or ‘special educational needs’ are unhelpful and therefore unacceptable. Also unacceptable is the failure to reflect the significant differences between different English regions, the intersectionality of inequalities, and the impact of family income.
Choudry’s challenge to the DFE sets the context for the remaining articles, which offer informed critique of the current provision for children in education who have protected characteristics – and some inspirational examples of good practice. They include definitions of disability and special needs, a case-study of one school’s response to a student’s gender reassignment, the aspirations and needs of Pakistani Muslim children, the impact of gender stereotyping, and the long arm of Section 28 homophobia.
The introduction takes the form of an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. It makes the point at the core of this blog post: start with the Equality Act, and put it at the heart of all you do.