If we are serious about ensuring equity of opportunity and participation for all children, then addressing the causes of social immobility must be one of the most pressing items on the reform agenda.In response to the State of the Nation report by The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, SSAT’s Annual Lecture 2014 focused on the opportunities and challenges for school leaders and employers in tackling this agenda.We were privileged to have Sir John Dunford, National Pupil Premium Champion, chair the debate for us, are grateful to all panel speakers, contributors and attendees, and to Accenture for their sponsorship.
Many thanks in particular to David Thomas, Assistant Senior Leader at Westminster Academy and panellist at the lecture, for writing this guest blog with which to launch the Annual Lecture 2014 report, which includes a checklist of all the suggestions made at the lecture of ways to improve social mobility for all young people: actions for schools; for HE/FE; for industry and business employers; and for government.
David Thomas of Westminster Academy writes…
Our schools have made huge progress in challenging social immobility over recent years. Excellent teachers and leaders have shown this in their classrooms and schools, where the most disadvantaged students achieve the very best from their education.
But we still have much further to go. The attainment gap still looms large over millions of children, and has not been eliminated, even in areas where progress has been strong. Here, in my view, are three priorities to help us close it faster.
Using the pupil premium well
Pupil premium money should be spent improving the quality of teaching, because we know that disadvantaged students benefit disproportionately from better lessons. However we need to be more targeted than this if we are to close the gap rather than narrow it.
Just as schools identify the specific barriers faced by students with special educational needs in order to plan and implement a precise solution, so they must apply the same level of precision to their students in receipt of the pupil premium.
Pupil premium money should be spent improving the quality of teaching, because we know that disadvantaged students benefit disproportionately from better lessons
Disadvantage is a correlate, not a cause of educational under-attainment. Each area, each community and each student will have specific causes, and it is these causes that the pupil premium must be used to address.
If a group have never been to university, use the pupil premium to take them there. If they don’t see the promise of future employment, use the pupil premium to fund projects with business. If they’re missing a suitable place to study and do homework, use the pupil premium to provide one.
Sometimes the solution will be less textbook than this, so schools must use their freedom to think and spend creatively. This year we have developed and implemented our first year of a knowledge curriculum: a bespoke course to teach the general knowledge assumed by society that is not explicitly covered in the usual school curriculum.
We’ve expanded the breadth of options in our extended school day to include lessons in medicine and mathematical problem-solving as well as support classes, clubs and activities.
And our Year 7s are given a world map to put up at home – because knowledge of the world is too important to leave to chance.
Closing the gap at the bottom as well as the top
The discourse of social mobility is disproportionately focused on entry to Oxbridge and the top professions. It is of course essential that academic excellence is open to all, and that we close the egregious gaps at the top of society; but these are not the only gaps, and they are not the most damaging.
While public attention may focus on the entry statistics of Oxbridge colleges, many of the most vulnerable children in society are at risk of illiteracy and innumeracy.
Vulnerable children go on to become vulnerable adults, who struggle to engage in society because they never had the opportunity to learn
They fall out of the system because their needs prove too significant for it to meet, and because it was not willing to adapt in time. These vulnerable children go on to become vulnerable adults, who struggle to engage in society because they never had the opportunity to learn.
Real social mobility operates at both ends of the attainment spectrum. It supports all high attainers to get the university places they deserve. But it applies the same importance to ensuring that children with significant needs grow into adults who can both participate in and contribute to wider society.
We must judge ourselves by the success of our alternative provision as well as by our university entrance schemes.
Engaging in the science of parenting
We are extraordinarily fortunate that recent decades have seen huge advances in our understanding of child development. We know how to best stimulate the minds of young children, how to help them acquire language, and how to strengthen their executive function.
Yet we still have a culture where parenting is seen as an innate skill, and suggesting that it can be improved is heard as an implicit criticism. Changing this is key to advancing social mobility.
Yet we still have a culture where parenting is seen as an innate skill, and suggesting that it can be improved is heard as an implicit criticism
Karnes, et al. (1968) show that training mothers in specific parenting techniques improved children’s IQs by seven points. Hackman, et al. (2014) show that the working memory growth of children is strongly related to the education of mothers, but that its potential size is not.
Treating parenting as a scientific exercise, rather than an innate talent, will extend the fastest rates of cognitive development to all children.