A Further Word on Educational Inequality

Yesterday I explained why inaccurate use of the term “educational inequality” makes me uneasy. But then I started thinking about a gross educational inequality that is hardly ever mentioned, and it made me madder and madder.

Here is the school building that the teachers and pupils of Rugby School see when they arrive to learn:


Here is the school building me and the pupils I taught saw:


Spot any differences?

Here is a corridor at Westminster School:

Westminster School by Ruggero Rossi (ruggaugga)) on 500px.com
Westminster School by Ruggero Rossi

Here is the corridor my classroom was on. In one direction and then the other:



Yes the bucket was necessary for a roof leak.

Here is a classroom at the very expensive St. Paul’s School:


Here is the classroom I taught in during the second year (and a later year):



This second one looks great, until you realise that three of its wall are surrounded by the playground where students are doing PE, and it has a plastic roof which means if it’s raining you have to shout at 100 decibels before anyone can hear your instructions.

Here are the 45 acres of sporting fields that St Paul’s School in London has:


Here’s the…oh wait…we don’t have any fields.

Here’s the library at St Paul’s Girls’ School:


Here’s the….oh no…wrong again. The library was taken over by the exclusion unit.

Here’s the drama studio at Eton which has a flying system, orchestra pit, revolving stage, make-up studios, a stocked wardrobe, dressing rooms, a full-time designer and a fleet of technical staff.


Here’s our drama studio that had plants growing through the walls.



People often ask: Why didn’t the school look after its buildings better? It did. They ploughed thousands into  keeping it together and resolving issues, but they almost invariably reared their head again and again because the school needed knocking down and redoing. In 2003, even Ofsted concurred, reporting in their inspection documents that the building had “reached the end of its useful life”.

The period I taught in was after this as the school waited patiently for a new site to become available. Then, when it did, the school was six weeks away from beginning its new BSF school and the money was cut. The site of the planned new build was given to a Free School. Only after a lengthy battle – which has meant the school has been in unsatisfactory condition for a decade – the school has finally been granted Priority Schools Build money and thankfully building works will start this summer even if progress is going to be slow.

But it doesn’t resolve the fact that THIS is educational inequality. Living in a country where some children spend 5 hours a day in freezing classrooms, with plastic leaking roofs and mould growing through walls while others are not just in ‘comfort’ but are fully surrounded by facilities beyond the imaginations of most is inequality of input – it is giving children a fundamentally different experience. Yet it’s never what I hear challenged, and it certainly isn’t going to be changed merely by ‘improving teacher quality’.

And if anyone tells you that “buildings don’t matter” or “kids in other countries learn in mud huts” then ask them if they want their child to grow up, day-in day-out, in horrible physical conditions. I’m fairly certain I know what the answer will be.

26 thoughts on “A Further Word on Educational Inequality

  1. Laura, this is almost exactly the same situation as the one at my school, although our ‘new’ flatpack ‘Ikea’ school won’t be ready until 2016 – not for us the lovely BSF schools, but anything is an improvement right? When David Cameron used the success of privately educated Olympians to beat the state sector with, I was sick with rage. Where are our equestrian facilities, rowing lakes, cricket pitches even? Eton is spawning a plethora of fabulous, confident actors, trained to professional standards through a huge investment in drama, while in the state sector the subject falls even out of the English curriculum. I’m so glad you wrote this, even if it has brought tears of frustration to my eyes.

    1. Not quite the same thing, but another problem for aspiring actors is the cost of drama school auditions.Not only the travel costs to (usually) London but also having to actually pay to audition.

  2. Too right. And you don’t even mention the class sizes.

    I did want to weep when BSF got cancelled. I went to do training in a school a while back where the walls were in such a terrible condition that the teachers had repainted them black as part of a war poetry display (to hide the damp patches). Creative, at least! But really, it shouldn’t be necessary in this day and age.

  3. I feel your pain! My school is just the same. We have featured on ‘Newsround’ 3 times. Gove promised us a new build when in opposition. When in power he cut BSF as you know. We too are on for a Priority Build but there is still much haggling. I’m waiting for the first shovel to hit the ground before I believe it.

  4. Exactly! This is the first post of its type I’ve seen and it couldn’t be more graphic. I work in a school and it makes me weep to see the chasm between schools in our country. Here’s hoping your new school turns out to be a wonderful environment for the pupils.

  5. I feel your pain. We too are in an old and leaking building with asbestos in the building. Gove promised a new build and then removed money for BSF. We are now in line for a Priority Build. We’ll see. I’m not holding my breath!

  6. Thanks to having an Army father when shool places were funded, I was lucky enough to be educated in a very modest, Methodist public school – cheap by the standards of Eton and Harrow but still streets ahead of the majority of state funded schools. I believe I did better academically as a result, not because of better teaching but because of small classes, which meant my tendency to daydream rarely went unnoticed!

    Until politicians place a high value on education for its benefits to the individual rather than the political and economic benefits to them, shareholders and the CBI – we will remain where we are Internationally whatever the statistical tinkering.

    1. Yep – class size is another one where we are told “the research” says it doesn’t matter. But no-one is happy for their kid to be in a class of 36.

  7. Brilliant blog Laura. Just so unfair. And not to forget that the thousands spent on maintaining buildings that no longer deserved to be maintained were thousands that could have been spent on pupils.

  8. I used to teach in a classroom where the slugs and snails used to come out at night and eat the children’s displays. Those they didn’t eat they left slime on.

  9. Reblogged this on SecondaryCEIAG and commented:
    Had to reblog – this is exactly the story of my school as well – 6 weeks before start date our BSF was cancelled and we are now waiting for a Priority Schools build to slowly, ever so slowly get moving

  10. When working with OFSTED some years ago I observed a lesson in a “temporary” classroom where pupils had to negotiate the 2 Acrow props that were preventing the ceiling from collapsing on them. The same 2 Acrow props were mentioned in the report from the previous inspection four years earlier. Unsurprisingly, dressage and beagling did not feature on the curriculum, and there was no Olympic rowing lake bearing the school’s name. These pesky low expectations, eh?

  11. How much of this is just bad management though? I inspected a school that had “saved” 500k from its revenue budget towards building a new block. Back to my blog on https://theingots.org/community/How_to_pay_teachers_90k_a_year and have classes of 15.

    Point is are we really using the money already in the system to best effect? There are big differences between how well different schools manage money and big differences in funding in different localities. I’d rather fix these issues before simply throwing more money at the problem.

    1. The problem with private schools is that they exist and they are not going to go away any time soon because in a pluralist democracy there is no way to ban private education. I see technology enabling a lot more home schooling type diversity so while the number of private school might not increse, the numbers educated outside state education could do. It might well be that the large education factories of the late 20th Century/early 21st Century have had their day.

      1. Even so, it doesn’t excuse a cabinet of privately educated politicians (David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson to name a few) underfunding and mis-treating the state education system. The problem is, those in charge have no experience of a life other than that of a billionaires. I think it’s time the Bullingdon Boys started doing what’s right for the country, instead of the ideological crazed policies they’re coming out with at the moment.

  12. All interest groups claim under-funding. The fact is that the per pupil funding of state education is enough to pay me £90k a year to take a class of 15 kids in my own home. Whatever money is thrown at the State Education machine it will never be enough and where do you take that money from? Social Security? The Health Service? Pensions? Defence? These are the only pots big enough to make any difference. Actually the defence pot is now probably not big enough to make more than a marginal difference. Take a look at http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/spending-actual-billion-500×461.png and decide where you are going to take the money from? Of course crazed ideology depends on your political perspective. I think any government would have a problem with BSF considering the current circumstances. And of course BSF was a pretty inefficient way of spending tax payers money in any case. Raise Taxes? To make a big enough difference would probably kill incentives and as has been shown in the past actually reduce the tax revenue.

    1. Surely it’s time to remove charitable status from private schools? How much money would that raise?

      i’ve known of brilliant lessons taking place in Portakabins, in cramped schools; the amount of waste spent on new schools via PFS is scandalous. The same amount of money could probably have been spent judiciously and helped all rotting, dilapidated schools. The Girls Public Day School Trust schools used to be run on a shoe-string – no frills but solid, dry buildings and excellent education. Now in their reincarnation they, too, have bowed to the excessive requirements for luxury.

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