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Wrestling with the Long Term Disadvantaged

It was supposed to be a mid-Parliamentary term review of the educational landscape but when Headteachers’ Roundtable meet again in early October we will be drafting our third General Election Manifesto in less than five years.

As the stars are aligning around a general election so are we seeing alignment around some of the biggest challenges facing education: retention of teachers; funding for schools and pupils with high needs and how to increase the attainment of the long term economically disadvantaged. 

Sadly, our accountability system actually works against those schools which have the highest proportion of the long term disadvantaged in.  In a recent post, Nobody Knows which Schools are Good, Professor Becky Allen writes, “I use the word good advisedly. We do know which schools are exceptional and we do know which schools are in desperate need of support to improve. But that leaves a massive pile of schools somewhere in the middle of league tables that we can say little about, in my view.”  Her concerns range from: what gets tested gets taught; teachers having discretion over the administration of the very same assessments by which they will themselves be judged and schools choosing which pupils count, some encouraging under-performing and difficult-to-teach pupils to complete their education elsewhere.

The later issue concerning pupils is interrogated in substantial depth and detail by Gorard & Siddiqui (2019) who evidence that “the duration and precise pattern of childhood disadvantage matter when considering school outcomes, especially for FSM and SEN”.  Many of us knew that.  But, the performance of different types of schools; the mythical north/south education divide or the impact of London Challenge are all questioned and found wanting.

“Our prior work has confirmed that considering long-term indicators of disadvantage, rather than simply flags for current or recent status, leads to better understanding of both disadvantage and its impact on outcomes. So, for example, the number of years a pupil has been known to be eligible for FSM is a better summary variable than either current FSM or EverFSM6. What this new work shows is that examining FSM status in sequence for every year that a child is in the school system is even better … the biggest difference lies in using FSM and other indicators of disadvantage in this longitudinal way.”

In short, a school’s examination performance is largely dependent on a school’s intake.  The long term economically disadvantaged is the challenge we face and are collectively failing to meet; Education Datalab’s Looking at the London Effect Five Years on is revealing.   Yet we still allow Ofsted and performance tables to give parents misinformation about a school’s effectiveness whilst paradoxically justifying their continued existence for the very reason of informing parents.

The recent Government publication on the Indices of Deprivation – analyses over 32,000 Lower Level Super Output Areas of approximately 1,500 people – shows the areas of deep deprivation whilst found across the country are predominantly in the North and some areas of the Midlands.

Blackpool has eight of the ten most disadvantaged areas in England; it’s at a scale that outsiders simply struggle to comprehend.  Their frame of personal experience and reference is simply inadequate; this is true of Ministers and inspectors alike.  Schools where the staff deserve medals are instead branded as failing or inadequate. 

The three academies in BEBCMAT vary from 23% to 57% of their intake from the 1% of most deprived areas in England; it’s a mind-blowing level of poverty which we seek to overcome each day.  How should we respond at a policy level to the issue of long term, deep, profound poverty at a pupil and place level?  I’m genuinely open to ideas having wrestled with the issues for over 20 years.  Please tweet me or add a comment to this blog, thanks in advance. 

Here are some thoughts to get you going.  What about Pupil Premium being paid at a variable level based on the number of years a pupil had been entitled to FSM?  What about a “Deep Poverty” area fund to employ additional trained mental health and social workers working in schools and then out into families?  Or possibly, in primary schools, in the most deprived areas or with the greatest percentage of long term FSM pupils, a statutory 1:15 pupil to teacher ratio in Reception and Key Stage 1 or a trained speech and language therapist in each of these schools?

In the end, schools can’t solve society’s problems.  This isn’t simply about examination outcomes enabling the few greater social mobility so they can leave the deprived background where they started life.  This is about deep social justice: less poverty; greater equity; a fairer society that is more at ease and at peace with itself and its people with each other.  Not everything we value can be measure by Attainment 8 nor its bed fellow Progress 8.

The title of this blog (Wrestling with the Long Term Disadvantaged) is taken from one of the chapters of the book I am currently writing; or at least trying to.  The book’s working title is “An Educator’s Hinterland: What Sits Behind the Decisions You are Making?”   It may be out in 2020 – it depends how the writing goes. 

However, if you’re interested in hearing more about these issues, Friday, 7th February 2019 – put a note in your diary – is the next Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit in London.



2 thoughts on “Wrestling with the Long Term Disadvantaged

  1. Hi Stephen,
    Considering ‘good’ evidence such as that available in the longitudinal Dunedin Study we know that a childs life chances are pretty accurately predicted by the age of 2 years, before they have entered the school system. Whilst the PPG should be means tests based on length of time a child is FSM and ethnicity (yes this really makes a difference for a range of reasons) the truth is that it is an instrument of public policy which seeks to place responsibility (and blame) on those tasked with overcoming failings in other aspects of public policy…such as health, social care, housing, funding of the North.

    For the greatest return on investment in public spend, my view would be to flip things and invest a disproportionate amount of money in pre, ante and post natal care, family support during the first 2 years of a childs life and the Early Years. Additionally, investment in local public provision/services to build community and fraternity for young families is a logical apporach to a cost efficient means of generating local resources and networks to support families during the early years of their lives (pre-school).

    In Hull, less than 30% of children entered the EYFS phase in 2019 at age related stage of development. How can this be in one of the richest countries in the world? Language acquisition and social development hindered before a child starts formal learning will serve to place a limit on what most children can achieve over the next 11 years and so inequality is perpetuated. Social mobility simply celebrates the few in order to blame the majority for not taking advantage of a meritocricy which is heavily weighted in favour the more advantaged.

    There are some simple solutions to complex problems but it seems there is always something more important to do. An obsession with short term impact measures simply perpetuates the misery of the long term disadvantaged by placing stark choices on policy decisions for those who hold power (such as LA leaders and Headteachers), however well intentioned they may be.

    Posted by Marc Cooper | June 25, 2020, 7:29 am


  1. Pingback: The Other Number 10. – Bald Headteacher - October 7, 2019

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