Written evidence submitted by Clementine Stewart
House of Commons Education Committee Inquiry Submission
‘left behind, white working-class pupils’
The following points are based on the questions posed to serve as a guide for any submission to the inquiry. This has been submitted based on my role as Vice-Chair of Governors at Langford Primary School, part of United Learning Multi Academy Trust. The school was last inspected by Ofsted in December 2018 and is considered to be ‘Outstanding’. It has some of the highest rates of progress in the borough and serves a mixed catchment area with high levels of deprivation.
- The challenges that white working class pupils face:
- Some parents have had poor education themselves or did not have positive school experiences. As a result, there is a reluctance to engage positively with school. Leaders can and will work hard to build these relationships and make the experience a positive one, but it takes time to shift the culture.
- Parents and Carers often have views such as ‘I was never good at maths and she/he’s like me’. It can be hard to shift this approach or to raise expectation. If parents feel that they have gone on to be ok without an education, it is also hard to build a sense of importance around education and makes support at home with home learning, homework and reading more of a challenge.
- They don’t get read to at home and are more likely to have IPADs and technology etc. rather than books, due to the lack of importance placed on reading. If there is no reading role model, or parents do not have the knowledge of how to talk about books/stories/reading then the gap starts to widen.
- Conversations they have with parents at home are not ones which expose them to new language. Tiered vocabulary is not used or explored so pupils have low level language reinforced.
- Teachers too willingly accept challenging behaviour from this group. If it becomes an expected norm then the vicious circle continues. Sometimes teachers can fear challenging the parents on behaviour as well.
- Teachers can have low expectations of this group - at times this is influenced by parent perception/reputation.
- Having English as a first language often presents a perception of this group being more cognitively able in EYFS than their EAL peers - as a result they miss early intervention and peers begin overtaking in KS1.
- As a group, they are less likely to take up free local services when children are young, such as speech and language. They may also be less likely to make the most of groups, support networks, libraries and so on.
- Attendance issues are common, with children more likely to miss school for more minor issues. If school is not seen as important in the family then less value is placed on attendance and the need to be in school, on time, ready to learn.
Langford data: Across the school, 77% of White British children are working at age-related expectation but remove those with complex SEND concerns and it is 90%.
- The extent of underachievement for white pupils who are eligible for FSM (free school meals), and how well the DfE's statistics (including Progress 8 measures) capture that:
- White pupils are captured in the DfE’s statistics as well as any other group.
- However, Progress 8 is only applicable to secondary schools and so primary and infant/juniors need to ensure they have their own robust tracking system for progress and attainment throughout the EYs and KS1 and 2. It is important that in smaller schools, where data captures can be skewed by smaller numbers, leaders drill down to look at the individual child with regards to data and underachievement.
- How your school and/or Academy trust supports students from white working-class backgrounds:
- Through richness of expectation. We genuinely believe that all children deserve to experience the highest quality of teaching, learning and resourcing. All children deserve a range of educational experiences that enhance their time at school and open their minds to new ideas and passions. This offer is an expectation for every child.
- We conduct early language assessment with all children to identify any possible intervention needed. This starts in nursery and if needed, children are referred for free local speech and language therapy. We work closely with families to ensure appointments are held, with reminders sent closer to dates, and we hold them to account if they don’t attend.
- We build positive relationships with parents and support them in believing their child can achieve amazing things. We hold parents to account when needed - if homework isn’t returned, we call parents and ask why; if a child’s attendance is a challenge, we hold parents to account. Everything must be child centred. Leadership models this from the top and with a lot of time and effort invested into building strong relationships with parents and supporting them to support their children, and however tough the conversation, real progress is made.
- We have exceptionally high expectations of the children. We insist standard English is used when speaking and writing; we celebrate every success; we tell them when they need to be better and make them re-do work which isn’t good enough. We insist that good behaviour is followed. We never lower our expectations.
- Build relationships – we show them we care by knowing them. We know their interests, know who lives at home, what they do on weekends etc. The relationship is so strong that they know when we hold them to account, it comes from a place of love and wanting nothing but the best from them. We tell them when we are being tough on them that we do it from love. No one should ever be invisible, and we dedicate staff meetings to teachers discussing nothing but what they know about our children.
- We hold parents to account and don’t shy away from challenging conversations. We tell them they need to support their child, get them in, work with the school etc. and when they need to be better and help their children to be better.
- We don’t discuss children as a group or data set. Yes, that can be the start, but we look at them as each individual. We ask who is not reaching their full potential and put interventions and support in to place. We also identify who is exceeding, then recognise them and push them to be even better.
- We support children to be resilient and value education. We help them articulate what a good learner looks like and ensure they practise this. We get them to understand the value of education, attending every day, and being a good person from the earliest possible age. They are never too young to start teaching metacognition, and this sets them up for life.
- We support with attendance, by visit their homes and doing whatever it takes to get a child in.
- We ensure every teacher is exceptional and the best they can be. All CPD is focussed on teaching and learning and we ensure every teacher has high expectations of every single child.
- The effects of COVID-19 on this group:
- From personal experience, attendance of this group is no different from others, but this is because they trust the school completely and know we will make it safe for them to return.
- Home learning was a struggle, stemming from a lack of parent confidence and expectation. It could also be linked to a lack of resources being made available or help from home not being possible.
- The impacts of underachievement, both for individuals and communities:
- A poorer quality of life.
- Increased mental health struggles.
- Lacking confidence.
- Struggling for employment.
- With specific groups (e.g. travelling communities and forces communities), each face their own contextual challenges which need to be understood by the education community so that children can be supported.
- What should the Government’s priorities be in tackling the achievement gap between disadvantaged white pupils and their peers:
- Invest in early years with a meaningful focus on language.
- Invest in reading development in the early years – make literacy and books a core part of family support so that schools have a foundation upon which to build.
- Ofsted to focus on looking at this group’s dynamics during inspections.
- Ensure an Early Career Framework is embedded meaningfully and effectively into NQT CPD, so teachers are supported to become the best they can be.
- Support staff to know what high expectations actually look like and conversely what low expectations look like. This lack of understanding is a huge problem in all areas.
- From the MAT’s prospective:
- Emphasise quality-first teaching runs through all plans for the year. Evidence-based catch-up strategies, guidance on planning and use of the catch-up grant should all also be publicised in greater depth.
- Offer support for schools/teachers focused on ensuring continuity of learning during lockdown. Specifically, with a move to home learning and the context we find ourselves working in now.
- Improve the provision of Chromebooks to enable remote access during lockdown and periods of self-isolation – schools where possible could supplement a DfE allocation with their own purchases to facilitate this.
- Instigate a common knowledge rich curriculum, ensuring high expectations across our schools and building up lesson-by-lesson resources to support teachers.
- Insist upon ‘Education with Character’. Ensure a schools culture and climate, ethos and values and curricular and co-curricular provision are all a key part of the approach to this; with resources provided over the summer term to ensure it remains a part of the pupils’ experience even when not in school.
NB: None of the above is targeted specifically at white working-class pupils, but there is plenty of evidence that all of it will support better outcomes for this group as well as others.
The Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service (Hampshire Local Authority), EMTAS, created lots of resources targeted at language development and subject-specific vocabulary acquisition to support EAL children, but found that the other group most positively impacted by the work were white, working class boys.
This would indicate that language and vocabulary play a huge part in supporting attainment for this group, and therefore needs a strong focus centrally. This could take the shape of resources, research and support for teacher delivery, but it needs to be embedded from the very start, with support for parents as they start to raise their own families.
This also needs to be done in a non-judgemental and supportive way and can be as habitual as other aspects of early support around development and health. It can be done with local groups, parent workshops, making resources free and easy to use, and linking families with schools early on, so that they can fully understand a child’s educational journey before it even begins.
Finally, you cannot place too high an importance on the acquisition of language and the ability to communicate using effective language skills. There is a great deal of research that shows the link between low income households and the lack of language skills seen in children, so damaging that the gap is already wide by the time a child starts school. Meaningful research, investment and development in this area would have a huge impact on the long-term life chances of this group of learners.
Governor – Langford & Wilberforce Partnership