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Harriet Crawford: Using education to end the conveyor belt to crime

Harriet Crawford of the Centre for Social Justice writes about the role education can play in lifting young people off the conveyor belt to crime. As in all contributions to this series she suggests practical measures to improve education for the most disadvantaged.

Nothing raises the aspirations of children and young people like effective education.  If this Government is able to achieve its valuable promise of radical education reform, we will at last begin to slow Britain’s criminal conveyor belt.  Where there is abuse, dysfunction or neglect at home – a tragic reality for too many of tomorrow’s adults – where there is a lack of productivity in a community, and where life skills are absent, our schools should be engine rooms of social mobility.

Yet during last week’s riots we saw the involvement of children as young as seven years old. More broadly, we know that seven in ten young offenders describe their academic attainment as nil and that a third of the adult prison population was in care as a child.  For too many in the UK’s most deprived areas, our education system falls shamefully short.  As such, it consigns thousands to a purposeless future on society’s scrapheap.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) published Breakthrough Britain, a report which examined this dangerous pattern of educational failure in the UK, and made recommendations for urgent action. For generation upon failed generation, little has been done through our schools to lift the achievements and broaden the horizons of the young people at the bottom of society’s ladder.  And as these riots have shown, educational failure has a huge social and economic price tag which we all pay.

Broadly, it seems, ministers get this.  But as part of the Prime Minister’s social fight-back, the Government should renew and redouble its commitment to reforming education.  The CSJ commends the Government’s establishment of the Free Schools programme, the rapid expansion of academies, and the decision to give head teachers and teachers the powers and flexibility to maintain discipline.  But as we called for in our recent first year report card on the Coalition, the Government should be obsessive about driving up standards of education in the poorest communities. There is currently a risk that the above measures could drift away from engaging the most disadvantaged pupils.

Parental engagement is fundamental to a child’s education. The evidence shows that those children whose parents are supportive are more likely to succeed at school. Yet how do those parents who failed at school, who struggle to read or write, or who do not recognise the value of education support their own children? Parental interest in education has a greater impact on outcomes than any other factor, be it the quality of school, social class or material deprivation. The Government has begun to recognise the role of parents in the education process (Home School Agreements for example), but this social disorder must galvanise the Government to go further.

Crucially, it is also the most disadvantaged pupils who make up the 6,000 children permanently excluded from school each year. But once excluded, where do they go? These children, rejected by our education system and society, or whose behaviour has become uncontrollable, take their place on the conveyor belt to crime.

We should be unequivocal: alongside strengthening families and leading welfare reform, there is nothing more integral to tackling social breakdown and the future of our country than radical change to failing schools.

Key recommendations include:

  • Support children to achieve better outcomes by facilitating and supporting parental engagement in children’s school life, via the implementation of the CSJ’s Every Parent Matters agenda:

1.    Home School Charters
2.    Home School Support Champions
3.    Be a Credit to Your Child Courses
4.    Family Literacy Classes

  • The Government should allow profit-making Free Schools to drive up school standards in the most deprived areas;
  • Furthering the greater power and flexibility given to head teachers, the Government should look at equipping head teachers with the skills necessary to running schools in deprived areas;
  • A coherent strategy is required for dealing with educational exclusion, to be published by CSJ in September 2011.


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