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Commission 246Commission on Inequality in Education 

In June 2017, The Social Market Foundation published a report from a cross-party commission set up in January 2016 to look at inequality in education.

They looked and reported on differences due to location, ethnicity, low-income which is summarised as:

  • The performance gap between the richest and the poorest has remained persistently large between the mid-1980s and the mid 2000s, with no significant improvement.
  • GCSE performance at age 16 across England reveals marked disparities between regions, with over 60% of pupils in London achieving 5 good GCSEs (including English and Maths) compared to 55% in the West and East Midlands.
  • While Asian students born in 1970 performed poorly, Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi-heritage children born in 1999/2000 were the best performers. White students have fallen from outperformers to under-performers on average.
  • At age 11, Yorkshire & Humberside and the West Midlands have disproportionately high numbers of low-scoring pupils. By contrast, the North West and London have disproportionately high numbers of  high-scoring pupils.
  • Schools with more affluent children have 12% of teachers with more than ten years of experience while the poorest have just 7%.
  • Pupils in schools serving areas of higher deprivation are much more likely to have teachers without an academic degree in a relevant subject.
  • A secondary school teacher in the highest deprivation quintile school is, other things being equal, 70% more likely to leave than one at a neighbouring school in the lower deprivation quintile

I think some of the above has been well-reported but there was a section in the report which concerned the impact of parents and the family environment. This is often neglected in policy and research, possibly because politicians and policy-makers are wary of being seen to intervene in the “private” issue of how people raise their children.

Often any such research looks at parents' income or qualifications. In this case, whilst recognising that parental income and education level matter a great deal, the commission explored the importance of parental engagement in education regardless of  family income or parents’ qualifications.

They drew inspiration from recent initiatives such as the Parent Engagement Project, run by research teams from the University of Bristol and Harvard University. The project involved parents being sent text messages from their children’s school with the aim of increasing parental engagement in learning. After a one year trial involving 36 secondary schools, the project found small positive impacts on Maths and English, and a reduction in absenteeism. Such parental engagement techniques are seen in many high-performing schools or schools seeking to make significant improvements. 

Using existing national survey data taken when children were  aged 5 and 11 and discounting for income, parental education, and parental age, they identified the following key predictive factors of attainment:

Key predictors of age 11 test scores (most-least important)
Key predictors of progress between ages 5 and 11 (most to least important)
Child draws or paints outside school Parent has at least some interest in school work
Parent has at least some interest in school work Child draws or paints outside school
Child listens to or plays music outside school Someone at home ensures homework is completed
Someone at home ensures homework is completed Child reads for enjoyment every day (compared to never)
Child reads for enjoyment every day (compared to never) Someone attended parents' evening
Parent reads to child age 5 Child listens to or plays music outside school
Someone attended parents' evening Child has a regular bedtime
Child has a regular bedtime Nobody smoked around child age 5
Nobody smoked around child age 5  

I'm struck by how simple actions by parents make such a difference; showing interest, making sure homework done, reading, attending parent evenings, regular bedtimes.

It also shows why after-school homework clubs make a difference - see this blog, After-school clubs help poorer primary school pupils to get ahead  

I was also surprised by how cultural activities - drawing, music outside school are so high on the list of predictive factors. This is backed up by this blog, Key factor that predicts community involvement 

Something to think about for childrens work, parent/toddler meetings and also if you are involved in schools.

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Geoff Knott, 08/08/2017

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