It’s hasn’t been a great few weeks for social justice in my books though reading some DfE pronouncements and you would think the issue is all but sorted.
Whilst it’s politically critical to grasp the narrative, it is educationally important to have an impact. Possibly a better way to approach improving social justice may be through a bit of social engineering, designating badges of honour for improving equity and targeted metrics which give credit to schools in challenging areas who are doing a good job. In the suggestions below the 20% figure is a just a thought. Feel free to replace it with 25% or 30% or whatever works best for you, it’s the principle which is important.
Ofsted Outstanding Only for Those Who Improve Equity & Social Engineering
Whilst I’m not actually convinced that Ofsted inspection grades will survive for many more years I’m going to use them as a way of building a set of policies around a preferential option for the poor. Imagine if the Department for Education and Ofsted determined that no school could be designated outstanding unless it had greater than 20% or of its pupil cohort designated as Pupil Premium. Obviously to be graded outstanding the school would need to deliver an effective education as well. This may seem harsh on schools that are located in highly affluent areas and simply can’t attract a large number of pupil premium students. These schools could be designated good and the argument against them being graded outstanding is that they are simply not doing enough to promote social justice. Equally you may argue they have been advantaged for long enough and it’s time to refocus the system. With school admission authorities able to give preference to Pupil Premium children it would be fantastic to see schools scrabbling to get their fair share of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A bit of redistribution across the system might help schools and pupils from disadvantaged areas more than we might think or like to admit.
Badges of Honour Only Awarded to Those with Experience of Increasing Equity
This next one is probably going to go down even more like a lead balloon than the one above. It is not a dig aimed at or a slight on anyone. Most NLEs, their designation follows an outstanding graded Ofsted inspection, are likely to be from schools which have a high attaining or affluent pupil intake. They may have extensive, some or no prior experience of working in a school with a low attaining or disadvantaged intake yet they are now the system leaders and dispensers of advice to these schools. The NLE badge needs to be a badge of honour linked to actually having worked, impacted and improved outcomes for children who have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Imagine if a leader could never be designated as an NLE unless s/he had spent a minimum of three years impacting in a school with greater than 20% of the pupil cohort being designated Pupil Premium. Experience may be from a prior senior leadership post in a school with the prerequisite percentage of children entitled to pupil premium funding. The same thinking can be applied to HMI, Regional Schools Commissioners and even the national Honours List. The potential pull created and increase in the number and calibre of the people applying for senior leadership and headship posts in schools, serving disadvantaged areas, may eventually rocket. The benefit to the children in these schools would be massive.
Create a High Importance Inclusive Pupil Premium Only Value Added Measure (Targeted Metrics)
Metrics matter as they tend to drive our behaviours particularly in a cliff edge high stakes accountability system. Value added measures like Progress 8 and the yet to be determined primary version give schools, with largely disadvantaged backgrounds or low attaining intakes, a fighting chance but it is no more than that, just the slightest chance to show the impact of what they are doing. EducationDatalab’s excellent analysis of the impact of a school’s intake on its Progress 8 outcome makes for interesting reading and offers a number of different inferences which may be made.
Imagine if we created a high importance value added metric to look at a school’s effectiveness based only on Pupil Premium children and compared only to other Pupil Premium children. The measure would probably have to be the primary accountability measure so all schools focused on it and focused on it hard. The comparison could be against the mean of all Pupil Premium children or split the comparison into deciles so outcomes for Pupil Premium children in schools with a high density are compared to those with similar intakes equally those with a very low density in terms of intake. There will be a perennial need to keep an eye on the gap between pupil premium and non-pupil premium outcomes and ensure it is closing.
We’ve designed the system to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. We don’t have a problem with the attainment of those from advantaged backgrounds. The accountability system and associated metrics need to be rethought to focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the schools who serve the majority of them. If we want to get serious about social justice, being one nation, and improving equity in educational outcomes than we need a policy shift. By making schools serving disadvantaged areas more attractive places to work, in fact the preferred place to work, we will have started the journey towards high educational equity.
Improving equity in educational outcomes is a start but we need to see it as part of a holistic approach to greater social justice which includes individual responsibility and appropriate state support. Moving from the minimum wage to the living wage, continuing to increase the personal tax allowance, providing high quality social housing with rents varying depending on income, providing good quality local support, based in schools would be good, for mental health issues which can in time lead to various types of dependency, and vice versa, or for those subject to domestic violence would all have a positive impact.
Bringing forward policies such as coasting schools, which schools with high attaining or affluent intakes will ace without actually trying, and exclusive performance and accountability measures like the EBacc (you get a grade C or better in all areas or you don’t count) won’t help increase equity of outcomes for disadvantaged young people. We need better than that. Social justice is a good thing, it’s a moral imperative, and will lead to a society that is more at peace with itself.