Barnardo’s criticises ‘unfair’ state school system

Children’s charity says privileged children are monopolising top state places and poorer families are losing out in a complex and unfair system.

Impenetrable “clusters of privilege” are forming around the best state schools, Barnardo’s, Britain’s biggest children’s charity, warns today. Poorer families are losing out to better-off neighbours who move house or attend church to get a better education.

Unfair admissions practices result in schools with skewed intakes that do not reflect their neighbourhoods, Barnardo’s says, citing research that indicates the top secondary schools in England take on average just 5% of pupils entitled to free school meals.

Schools should be encouraged to admit pupils in “bands” based on their academic ability in order to increase the social mix, the charity recommends.

Government plans to expand the number of academies and create parent-led “free schools”, which will control their own admissions, risk widening the gap.

Martin Narey, Barnardo’s chief executive, said: “Secondary school admissions fail to ensure a level playing field for all children. Instead we are seeing impenetrable clusters of privilege forming around the most popular schools.

“Allowing such practice to persist – and almost certainly expand as increasing numbers of schools take control of their own admissions – will only sustain the achievement gap in education and undermine the prospects of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children.”