This post was prompted by two event. Firstly, someone reading my post of the 15th June 2017 on this blog, entitled Class rules: not OK, about a report issued by the Social Mobility Commission, and secondly, by some recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported in the Oxford Mail. That data revealed that in the area of North Oxford I represent on the county council women can expect to live up to eleven years longer than women living in some parts of the east of the City.
Both of these facts reminded me of the issue of deprivation, and the role that education can, could and should play in helping improve the life chances of everyone in society. Over the years, since fresh thinking began to appear after the paralysis of the Second World War, and its aftermath, there have been various schemes aimed at reducing the effects of deprivation on schooling. These have included, Education Priority Areas, Schools of Exceptional Difficulty; Education Action Zones, and currently, Education Opportunity Areas. In the same time period funding for schooling has shifted from a local matter, topped up by grants from Westminster, to a national formula assisted by the Pupil Premium for some children, with different arrangements for those designed as SEND pupils.
Have any of these interventions made much difference? The interesting point about all the schemes listed in the previous paragraph was that they were determined at a national level. There was also a time during the period when the market was seen as the dominant narrative in policy-making when there were few schemes specifically aimed at the disadvantaged areas of England.
So, what would I do if I had the chance? Teachers are important. For without teachers both determined to work in these areas of deprivation and with an understanding of the children and their families that live there, no progress will be made. When there are teacher shortages, challenging schools find staffing difficult and turnover a real problem, as those that do come to work in these schools often don’t stay very long. Well-designed local training programmes crafted between schools and higher education can help, and will certainly reduce the lack of preparation some new teachers feel when joining these schools that are so unfamiliar to them. Good leadership is also very important, and I worry about the development of both middle and senior leadership for these challenging schools in the present climate. But without staff, no changes are possible.
Then, of equal importance, there is the curriculum. Yes, reading and writing are important, but so is a balanced curriculum, especially in the secondary school. We need a curriculum that increasingly involves the learner in choosing rather than being told what to learn. Of course, you cannot choose to learn to break the law, but you may want to learn a more practical set of skills than the current EBacc permits. To demotivate and even alienate from learning young people both now, and probably in the future, through an inappropriate curriculum is a as great a failure of our politicians than the current shambles over Brexit.
Finally, we need to engage the parents that the system failed. Unless we do, they won’t help break the cycle of deprivation. As an earlier post showed, the relationship between persistent absence and deprivation is stark. If education for all really is important for our future as a society, then we have to break down this cycle that is repeating itself between the generations.
All this takes cash, and with rising pupil numbers and a lack of political will to increase taxation, it is difficult to see where the resources will come from. Perhaps, through greater use of modern technology?