Beyond the inner-city: underperformance in the UK education system

British Education Policy

West Berkshire is one of the most affluent local authorities in the country. On the Indices of Deprivation it ranks as the 287th most deprived out of 326. Yet in 2012 only 21.9% of pupils eligible for free school meals left school with five good GCSE’s, putting it second from bottom in the country. In many ways West Berkshire neatly illustrates what Ofsted Chief Michael Wilshaw said when launching the Unseen Childrenreport last year. According to Wilshaw:

Poor, unseen children can be found in mediocre schools the length and breadth of our country. They are often found in leafy suburbs, market towns and seaside resorts. They can be found in comparatively prosperous communities, many of them achieving far less than they should. They are labelled, buried in lower sets, consigned as often as not to indifferent teaching. They coast through education until – at the earliest opportunity –…

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3 Responses to Beyond the inner-city: underperformance in the UK education system

  1. OK -West Berkshire is my home territory.
    You would not believe the historic battles I have personally had with West Berkshire authority regarding the teaching of early reading and spelling.
    I have worked in a very wide range of schools in West Berkshire, including being the headteacher of a primary school in Special Measures for two years and in another school that ended up being a Fresh Start school.
    In other words, I have plenty of experience of a wide range of children, the wide range of needs, and some of the things going dreadfully wrong with the teaching – and the training and advice for the teachers.
    There are some things you cannot tell people because they do not want to hear.
    It does not matter how professionally you address the scenario, still they do not want to hear or be held to account.
    When I fought a battle for ten specific children with very low levels of literacy who made outstanding progress within one term with the systematic synthetic phonics method I advocate and use, my services were dispensed with and my previous colleagues were instructed to ‘do something different from Debbie’ and they were sent on Catch Up training that was not in line with the Rose Report even though the authority purported to be in line with Rose.
    To this day, many children who lag behind their peers will be sent for intervention provision which is not in line with the research at all. Such programmes are entrenched in some of our universities like the Institute of Education and Oxford Brookes.
    Now, here is the thing, schools are always advantaged by pupils who come from very articulate homes. This does not mean that every young person coming from such a home does not have some difficulties with basic skills in literacy as it is perfectly possible for children to get plenty of ‘mother’s knee’ support and lots of literature experience at home and still have some reading and spelling difficulties.
    However, for those children who do not get such home support, there may be ‘only’ school to bring on their early literacy skills.
    When such children do not get the very best of technical teaching (that is, the knowledge of the alphabetic code and the skills of blending, segmenting and handwriting) ALONG WITH very rich language and literature provision, then they are seriously disadvantaged probably for the rest of their lives.
    The perception dominates that phonics is actually ‘infant stuff’ – nothing could be further from the truth. Phonics is a lifelong necessity but most people have deduced phonics for themselves and simply don’t realise how they routinely use it as adults.
    So, if our young people do not get the strongest of foundations with excellent phonics teaching – which also underpins their wider reading capability – indeed their ‘will’ to do lots of reading and writing because they technically ‘can’ – then the gap between the learners gets wider and wider.
    Now, I suggest that to this day there is a huge difference in our primary schools regarding the level of rigour and content of their basic skills phonics programmes. There is a vast difference between tinkering around the edges with phonics and providing content-rich rigorous phonics. We have some inner city schools providing very rich and rigorous phonics teaching – we have many leafy suburb schools that may rely on children bringing an existing propensity for reading and being articulate from their home backgrounds – thus grossly underestimating the need for the best phonics teaching.
    Over the last year, six recognised national phonics specialists formally complained about Ofsted providing footage from three apparently ‘outstanding’ primary schools illustrating less-than-outstanding phonics and handwriting practice. We said that Ofsted, in effect, was giving a wrong message in oh so many ways about phonics provision and certainly undermining our work.
    In a leafy suburb local authority, children’s success is seriously underpinned by their home circumstances so it can come as a shock when the primary schools don’t fare so well, for example, in the Year One phonics screening check – or when schools are criticised for not helping their less-advantaged pupils!
    When children are not advantaged in their spoken language and help from home, there is a knock-on effect for the rest of their schooling.
    How many young people are simply turned off their own education because they get no satisfaction from their reading, their writing – including their handwriting. Many may even think they are not that bright compared to their peers simply because their basic skills and presentation skills lag far behind from the get-go.
    So, I am not surprised by the data in West Berkshire – until such time as the advisors and teachers truly grasp the nettle at the beginning of schooling, this will continue to be the scenario. Many of the children will do well largely as a consequence of their head-start at home, and others will not do well because they don’t get off to the very, very best start either at home or in school.

  2. pamcorbyn says:

    Great post and one that resonates with my own experience. Breaks your heart for the kids though.

  3. Pingback: Beyond the inner-city: underperformance in the UK education system | Phonic Books

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