“Education in England is a postcode lottery for children from poorer families; where you are born determines how well you do at school and in life. A child on free school meals has only half the chance of getting good grades as their wealthier peers and Ofsted have revealed that in some areas of the country their chances of succeeding are significantly worse.” (Teach First, 2013)
Mismanagement of the Pupil Premium is failing white children from low income families in the United Kingdom. The Ridiculous claim from The Department for Education (2014) that a 3% increase in GCSE outcomes since 2011 and a 1% narrowing of the attainment gap since 2005 (between this group and their peers) represents success, verges on fraudulent.
That the gap is not closing sufficiently (nor quickly) is due for the most part to: poor decision making at local, regional and national level; a lack of central accountability; an over reliance on spurious research; within school variation; and the governmental support of impotent schemes such as Achievement for All.
One bright spot on an otherwise sombre landscape is the foresight of Brett Wigdortz (CEO of Teach First) in enticing high quality graduates into the profession. This is beginning to have an impact on the quality of teaching in low income areas of London where gaps are narrowing quicker than in other regions of the UK. Clearly other factors are at play in ‘The City’ but this correlation should not be ignored.
The Teach First programme is not without its detractors. Denington (2013) describes Teach First as ‘a gamble for any school’ and describes her experience as one of anguish. She bemoans the lack of support given to Teach First Teachers and the high expectations placed upon them too early in their development. Furthermore, she raises concerns over the variability of experience between new teachers on the programme, across such a broad range of schools.
Wigdortz may be prove to be the catalyst for similar programmes aimed at increasing recruitment of teachers in the UK. School centred initial teacher training (SCITT), for example, is becoming more widespread although, once again, questions persist around the variation in quality of the programmes offered.
The question of what impact SCITT will have on the quality of education received by children from low income families is a complex one. If potential Teach First recruits are drawn to SCITT placements in ‘already good’ schools then the quality of trainees placed in schools with high levels of disadvantage may be reduced. The effect of this may be to make good schools even better whilst reducing the teaching capacitye available to weaker schools.
The low income attainment gap is exacerbated in our coastal towns and rural areas, as highlighted by National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter (2016), in his address at Wellington College. Carter sees this as a prominent challenge for his administration. Academisation (by 2022) and stronger leadership are his main solutions and there is emerging evidence that they may indeed have a positive impact on the rapid improvement of schools in those regions.
However, with the attainment gap holding steadfast at about 27% since the introduction of the Pupil Premium in 2011 (Ofsted, 2014), we must assume that generally speaking, disadvantaged children are not catching up with their peers and this needs re-appraisal. Attainment data suggests that disadvantaged children become more disadvantaged as they progress from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4.
Professional practitioners must be catalysts for positive social change. Social injustice takes many forms and it falls to us to educate, collaborate and change behaviours in order to reduce inequalities and promote peace. Our relationship with the communities that we serve and our appreciation of local, national and global contexts make us excellent prospective agents of social change. As independent critical thinkers, we are perhaps more likely to question the status quo and fight for social justice than others.
To level the playing field, we must advantage disadvantaged children – from the day that they are born, and increasingly so as they get older and the gap traditionally widens. The strategies that I have developed are effective, proven and sustainable. “Over the past two years in particular, we have made particularly significant progress with our disadvantaged students. This has been achieved by creative thinking about initiatives to “advantage” disadvantaged learners.”
If you would like to meet to discuss how I can help you to make the most of your Pupil Premium funding and close the attainment gap in your school or district – I would be very happy to speak with you. I’ll leave the final word to a former colleague.
“I would recommend anyone who is fortunate to have the opportunity to seek advice from Paul to listen very carefully and implement his suggestions in your practice and thinking.”
Achievement for All (2014) https://afaeducation.org/downloads/Achievement-for-All-3As-Impact-Report-2013-14.pdf
Carter, D., (2016) https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=s2kpg-ZEzuY (accessed:22/07/2016)
Denington, H., (2013) Why I quit Teach First, Available at: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/why-i-quit-teach-first/reputation-matters/article/1190350#GY2Q4PDVlljDmqQ8.99 (accessed: 30/07/2016)
Department for Education (2014) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pupil-premium-reform-is-benefiting-children-from-all-backgrounds
Wigdortz, B., (2012) Success Against the Odds. Short Books. London