Tackling Social and Educational Inequality (And Raising Attainment)

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Cambridge Primary Review and the Cambridge Primary Review Trust. If not, Google them. These guys are responsible for what we at SPC consider to be some of the most important research being undertaken in education right now.

After undertaking the most comprehensive inquiry into English primary education for 40 years, they have continued to act upon their findings in their quest to create an educational world that is equal, fair and valuable for all children. They are dedicated to raising attainment for children of all backgrounds.

They recently released their report Mind The Gap; Tackling Social and Educational Inequality, which provides an overview of the inequalities in British Society and the negative influence that these dichotomies can have on children’s education.

Inequality And Educational Outcomes

The report found that a child’s family background is the single most important influence on educational achievement. Children perform better in school and attain better results if their parents have higher incomes and higher levels of education, and if they have a place to study and access to books and newspapers in an environment in which education is valued.

This trend is evident across the entire spectrum, with children from a family with a slightly higher social position performing slightly better than those from a slightly lower social position. 

They also found that the more egalitarian a society is, the better their children engage with their education. This happens to the extent that children in egalitarian societies outperform those with the highest social position in elitist societies.

Inequality And Childhood

Parental experience of adversity is directly passed on to children. The poverty of time and resources, domestic conflict, parental mental illness and substance abuse all have a considerable effect on a child’s performance in school.

Children who consider themselves to be judged negatively by others suffer high-stress levels, poor cognitive performance, and a negative self-image. The quality of their relationship with other children suffers, and they are more likely to bully or be bullied. 

The report also finds that, consciously or subconsciously, teachers are often affected by class and social status prejudice, and may discriminate against children with a perceived lower social status. Teacher training does not include objective consideration of the meaning of social class and inequality within education.

Closing The Gap: What Works?

  • Increased spending on education, including targeted spending (Pupil Premium), can certainly make a difference, yet it is not enough to close the attainment gap.
  • Free schools lead to deteriorating educational achievement.
  • DfE’s claim that academies improve attainment among disadvantaged pupils has been challenged on evidential grounds.
  • School-based interventions help. (Check out the Educational Endowment Foundation.)
  • The substance and quality of classroom talk can have a significant positive effect.
  • ‘Big education’, which raises its sights beyond the traditional fixation on the 3Rs and education for work, was also found to be beneficial.
  • Reducing educational inequality will ultimately depend on reducing social and economic inequality.