In Britain, why does a child’s demography determine their destiny? Secondly, are children bound to fail if they are born into a ‘poor’ family? Most importantly, how do we break this link between Socio-economic background and outcomes in education and in life?
Some years ago when I was in the early days of my teaching career, I remember overhearing two senior colleagues commenting about a pupil who was underachieving in school. ‘He’s bound to fail!’ one said to the other… ‘he’s a Smith!’ The family in question were from the poorest part of town, and had had a number of children, all boys, go through the school, and all of them had left with not very much to show from their time in education. I wonder if you know any ‘Smiths?’ Perhaps there were some in your class.
Maybe you were labeled a ‘Smith’? Do you ever stop to think about what could have been done to create a different type of future for them? Where would you start? What those two teachers were highlighting was the ‘Gap’ that exists in education. That is the gap or difference in outcomes for pupils, that is to do, not with natural ability, but the kind of family or Socio-Economic background they are from. This is a problem for every developed nation in the world. However for the UK, until recently, we were near the bottom of the world league table of OECD or developed nations table for educational attainment gap – in other words we had one of the biggest gaps between the outcomes of poor children (those on free school meals) and everybody else.
Furthermore, at around the same time, West Berkshire (right on our doorstep) was the LA with the largest gap in Britain. So educationally speaking, if you were a poor child in West Berkshire a few years ago, at that point you were one of the most disadvantaged children in the developed world! And despite billions of pounds of investment (more per pupil than any other country in Europe), the UK is still stuck in the education doldrums.