What works to raise attainment in poor white pupils? Experts comment…

Poor white boys and girls are underperforming in school. The Education Select Committee report,  Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children recommends children need schools with high-quality teachers and longer days to allow them to do their homework.

Experts comment on what the evidence says to help white working class children succeed.

Becky Francis, Professor of Education and Social Justice at King’s College London, who gave evidence to the committee, says:

“Working class underachievement is a scandal. Recent attention has been focused on the achievement of working class boys, today’s report highlights this is an issue for girls too. The recommendations include some sharp suggestions for promoting good practice in schools to raise working class attainment, including tighter accountability and leadership on the way in which the pupil premium is spent.

My own study shows disadvantaged pupils are more likely to go to schools where the quality of the teaching is inconsistent, so I am especially pleased to see recommendations to support the improvement of struggling schools, and incentives for good teachers to work in these schools.

Extending tracking of these pupils to post-16 education is an important recommendation. However, we also need to be mindful that schools don’t operate in a vacuum: these education recommendations need to go hand-in-hand with broader policies to address social inequality.”

Note to journalists: The study, referred to in the second paragraph is Professor Francis’s report: ‘(Un)Satisfactory?’

Professor Stephen Gorard of the School of Education at Durham University, who gave evidence to the committee, says:

“It should not matter if a child is a boy, a girl, white, on free school meals, a recent immigrant, living in a rural area or not, or any other factor. If they are in danger of underachieving they should be eligible for the most appropriate educational assistance.

There is reasonable evidence of several approaches that work to improve attainment, which could be usefully deployed. These include a number of catch-up programmes for literacy and numeracy which could be funded by the Pupil Premium in England; increasing the uniformity of state schools, which means no free schools or academies, no grammar or faith-based schools; and improving the balance of school intakes which means no catchment areas or distance criteria for selection; more enjoyable teaching, and greater respect for all pupils from the teachers; greater co-operation between schools and colleges, and so the abolition of zero-sum performance figures; providing incentives for children to improve their behaviour which helps attainment, such as attendance at school. This incentive approach might also work for parental engagement in their child’s education.

There are many other things that do not work, or where there is no evidence they work, despite considerable expenditure of time and money on them. These include raising aspirations, changing attitudes or expectations; changing the timing of teaching, that is shorter or longer terms, homework or breakfast clubs, summer programmes, Saturday schooling, the use of IT and software; the London Challenge and its imitators”

Note from Professor Gorard : These issues and the evidence underlying them are presented in Gorard, S. and See, BH. (2013) Overcoming disadvantage in education, London: Routledge, ISBN 978-0415536899, 224 pages

Steve Higgins, Professor of Education at Durham University, says:

“A number of approaches are likely to be successful with this group. One example is intensive tuition, either in small groups or one-to-one, when targeted at those most in need. This can be undertaken by an experienced teacher, or, as recent research from the Education Endowment Foundation shows, by teaching assistants with appropriate training and support. Support should be evaluated to check it is helping pupils catch up and then these children will need tracking or monitoring to ensure they don’t fall behind again or to intervene earlier if they show signs of not making good progress.

Working with parents, particularly in the pre-school and early years of primary school can also be effective to develop support in the home for learning at school. Showing an interest in what children do at school and encouraging them to work hard is important, but so are activities such as reading to and with younger children. The practice helps to develop fluency as well as showing support for what happens in school.

Encouraging pupils to take responsibility for their progress in learning can also be effective. Challenging pupils to plan, to monitor and then to review their own work helps them to understand what is expected of them and to develop strategies to manage their own learning. For under-achieving pupils this kind of instruction in learning strategies needs to be explicit, as it does not happen automatically.”

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