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Bridging the social class gap in educational outcomes

This article is taken from Professor Becky Francis’ mainstage presentation at the SSAT National Conference 2015 – ‘Bridging the social class gap in educational outcomes.’

There has been some concern that Pupil Premium funding was supposed to be spent solely on particular interventions or packages… Why would we do this when we know that teacher quality is what most impacts pupil outcomes?

You are privileged if your school has very large numbers of Pupil Premium students – you may be able to bring in specialist support. Schools with smaller numbers and less funding focus more on CPD, upskilling, and perhaps replacing to ensure specialised teaching support is available.

Why would we spend Pupil Premium solely on interventions when we know that teacher quality is what most impacts pupil outcomes?

Then there’s small group tuition – which is shown to be very effective but very expensive – and the importance of the basics in literacy and numeracy. Of course we can all agree that it is desperately important that young people – who come into school with very different starting points – are facilitated to be adequately literate and numerate and be able to access the mainstream curriculum. Otherwise these students are going to fail at every hurdle and fall further and further behind.

Dilemma and balance

However, there is a dilemma for schools. The more we remove students from the classroom, the more they miss other aspects of the curriculum. They particularly miss out on the extra enrichment – something working-class students are most in need of (middle-class students often get this at home.)

There is a really delicate balance – a genuine challenge that schools face in terms of the additional work on the basics that some of these students need, and the associated risk that by doing so you negatively impact their access to a broad and balanced curriculum. A perfect illustration of this is the very good practice of transition groups for vulnerable students going into Year 7 in secondary school – my question when I hear about transition groups is: How quickly are those kids being integrated into the mainstream curriculum?

There’s a genuine challenge that schools face in terms of the additional work on the basics that some of these students need, and the associated risk that by doing so you negatively impact their access to a broad and balanced curriculum.

If it’s quick, it’s a brilliant success story. If it isn’t quick, you may be stacking up the problems for those students as they fall further and further behind in their access to subject specialist areas.

I don’t have the answers there, I’m not sure anyone does. But I think it’s really important to be aware of this challenge and to be trying to address it accordingly.

Engaging parents

Talking of challenges – there’s the challenge of parental engagement – another notoriously difficult area. I think we need to be more innovative in our approaches to parental engagement. We need to keep in mind the very strong evidence that many working-class parents have had very negative experiences of schooling themselves. They feel intimidated by the school environment, rather than welcomed as middle-class parents often do.

Working-class parents feel intimidated by the school environment, rather than welcomed as middle-class parents often do.

Rather than a top-down “we’ll teach the parents how to support their children with literacy” approach, we actually need to find ways of making the parents feel valued. Their expertise needs to be recognised by the school in order to make them feel more comfortable in the school environment.

Enrichment

Children that have never left their local area desperately need to be provided opportunities by their school. Nevertheless, there needs to be a balance. For example, a school might pride itself on every one of their Pupil Premium students being able to play a musical instrument but do those students actually want that opportunity? Meanwhile, what is the gap like for maths? It’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental issues and important to think through the evidence behind the intervention.

Do look at your own school structures – are there things that your school is doing that actually makes things worse? This could be related to where exactly Pupil Premium students are concentrated; what access they have to subject specialist teachers; the facilitation of parents and many more areas that should be considered.

We have a middle-class system where middle-class families feel at home, and thrive. We have to think creatively about what we can do to facilitate working-class families, too.

Download Becky’s SSAT National Conference 2015 PowerPoint presentation.


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