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Shocking but true

February 25th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

At various times we have pointed out that educational achievement is closely linked to income or – negatively to poverty. Why is this important> Quite simply that many of the measures employed by the UK government target bad teaching or bad discipline or the lack of testing as the reason for underachievement. And it simply isn’t true. Or at least it isn’t the main reason for under achievement.

A recent report, ‘Poverty and Low Educational Achievement in Wales: Student, Family and Community Interventions‘, by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation makes this very clear.

They report that:

Living in poverty has a major impact upon levels of educational achievement in Wales. The most widely-used indicator of the number of children who live in relative poverty in Wales is the percentage receiving free school meals (FSM). On average this is about 17 per cent of children in Wales.

The educational performance of these children compared with those who come from more prosperous backgrounds, provides clear evidence of the effect of poverty on achievement. Educational under-achievement by children living in poverty in Wales can be seen as early as the age of three, when they enter nursery. Here the scores in standardised tests for those on FSM can be up to a year behind those of children not receiving FSM. This gap is often closed in the early years of primary education, but it widens again by the age of eleven. At ages 14 and 15/16, standardised tests and examination results reveal that on average there is a gap of 32 to 34 per cent between what children living in poverty achieve compared with other children (Egan, 2012b; Estyn, 2010). The percentage of 15 year olds achieve the equivalent of five or more higher-grade GCSEs, including English (or Welsh) and Mathematics is increasingly regarded as a key indicator of educational attainment. This is because having literacy and
numeracy skills at this level is critically important for progression to further study and into employment. Here, too, there is a significant gap in achievement. In 2011, for example, 21 per cent of young people receiving FSM in Wales achieved this outcome compared with 55 per cent not receiving FSM.

The report finds little evidence that  AAB-type interventions – raising aspirations, changing attitudes to schooling and tackling behaviour – have had impact on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged children.

However they found two areas of policy interventions seen to make a positive and sustained impact.

These are:

  • parental involvement in education;
  • participation in extra-curricular activities and mentoring

The research, they say, points to four areas of parental involvement which have had success:

  • improving at-home parenting;
  • involving parents in school;
  • engaging parents in their children’s learning and in their own learning;
  • aligning school–home expectation

Hopefully the Wales government  will pick up on the report findings. But there are no signs that the ideologically driven English government will take any notice – indeed it appears that it is looking at how to change indicators of child poverty – in other words to massage the figures rather than look at the real causes of underachievement in school.

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