Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Poor white children do worst at British schools

Earlier this evening I came across this comment on 'The Times' website by a gentleman in response to an article entitled: 'Poor white children do worst at British schools'. It makes interesting reading and offers a bit more depth to the discusion on school attainment than normally appears in the press.

I find the  reports from Ofsted and similar sources on the performance of children in education to be seriously lacking in depth and perhaps understanding. I was born during the second world war and raised in a coastal town port area. The school catchment took in children from all over the world. And yes, there was serious poverty. However, some children from the lowest districts did very well. Some because of the encouragement of their parents to do well at school and a few who, despite the lack of interest from the parents, were determined to escape the poverty and the depressed areas where they lived. For these the Grammar schools were the escape route to a better life. Some of the boys who were very intelligent had no encouragement at home to study and the emphasis was for them to leave school and start earning so they could contribute to the upkeep of the family. There were many boys who were not academic but were skilled with their hands or in other ways. Yet again some were not very bright but many were kindly and well behaved. The majority were very valuable young people who, with the right kindness and encouragement would develop to be very useful and worthy people in our society. Academic achievement is not the only marker of value and worthiness, and poverty is not the only reason for the lack of success. A lot is to do with the feeling of confidence and the sense of self worth or the absence of these life elements.
If we move forward to my 40's there was a period when I became a volunteer tutor on the County adult literacy and numeracy scheme. The reasons for illiteracy were complex and the level of illiteracy was severe, with some unable to spell even three letter words. These students were not stupid or thick, and it was a great reward to see the students develop. I am reminded of a few cases as an example. The first was a man who used to make model steam engines from scratch as a hobby. He used to buy the blueprints of locos and because he could not read he used to get a friend to read all the technical notes on the drawings out to him. He remembered (because he had to) all the notes, usually from several drawings, so that he could build the engines, which he did superbly. I remember well a lady student who was so thrilled when for the first time she could read Christmas and birthday cards and know who they had come from, and also be able to read the instructions on food packaging and washing powder etc. There was a local scrap metal merchant who was very wealthy, illiterate and who wanted to learn to read; his motivation was the feeling of shame. But perhaps the saddest thing of all were the teenagers, the door latch children, who had little attention or guidance from either parent, because both were working. These children brought themselves up by their own shoe strings. Typically in many of their houses there were no books to be seen or even contained anywhere in the house. There could be a lot of material goods and the latest electronic gadgets - but no books. Often there was no peace and quiet in which to settle down to read or do homework.
I am in my 70's now so my views will be out of date in many respects. However, the lack of money itself does not necessarily mean a child is held back. The culture and atmosphere in the home, in school and in society is a very big influence towards success or otherwise. It is unfair on teachers to publish inspection reports which do not fully take into account and openly admit the wider influences in a child's life. It would be good to read a detailed response from Sir Michael Wilshaw which acknowledges and shows his depth of understanding of the deeper issues affecting the education success of school children. Over to you Michael Wilshaw and indeed all others who can make suggestions for actions with more positive outcomes for the children- it is the outcomes that matter and not the theories.

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