There are many contributing factors to the attainment gap. Whilst the gap in financial support and the quality of the home environment are often discussed, a significant contributor is the expectations gap.
The expectations gap is the difference in life goals evident between a student from a privileged upbringing and one from an underprivileged upbringing.
When it comes to raising attainment, it is vital that all students have high expectations, and set themselves goals that they genuinely believe they can achieve. Whilst students from privileged backgrounds tend to have goals and are aware of the path they need to follow to achieve them, students from underprivileged backgrounds need inspiration and support.
They need to know what they should be striving for, and know how they can get there. In order to bridge the attainment gap, we need to ensure that children from underprivileged backgrounds have the same life expectations as those from privileged backgrounds.
1) Setting Goals
The first issue facing students from underprivileged backgrounds is that they often don’t have high enough expectations for their future. They expect their futures to be similar to their current situation and often do not have goals.
Whilst students from a privileged upbringing may tell you they they are going to be a lawyer, a teacher, or work in advertising when they grow up, underprivileged children are unlikely to have these expectations.
The first step to raising attainment is to help students from underprivileged backgrounds set themselves goals for the future.
Many students may not know what options they have or what career opportunities are available – which is why an emphasis on career development is vital. However, before you can help a student to understand how they could work towards a chosen career, it is important that they are aware of all the options available for them.
Many students simply do not know what careers are available – all they know about the world of work is what their parents do. If their parents have spent most of their lives unemployed, they are likely to have the same expectations for their future.
It is vital that we place an emphasis on education in future career prospects. Whilst many schools run career days, we need a more focused and prolonged approach. I’m not talking about steering a child down a career path from the age of eleven, but I do believe that we should be educating children about what careers are available from a young age – starting in primary school. We need to open their eyes to what they might want to do when they are older.
This can be as simple as providing students with a list of careers and a description of what they involve, helping them align their talents and interests with a career. In far too many cases, young people don’t realise what careers are available to them until they are in their twenties, by which point it may feel like it is too late to get the necessary qualifications.
2) Laying Out A Path To Success
Educating students on what careers are available often isn’t enough. Whilst some students will relay their desired career to their parents and together lay out a path to achieving their goals, many will not take the time to research how they should go about entering a career.
Many students need the path to be presented to them. They need to see exactly what they have to do in order to achieve their career goal. Whether they need to focus on going to university or a vocational course at college, it is important that they have something to aim for.
3) Why Does It Matter?
It is vital that schools establish a strategy for raising attainment. Helping students set goals and achieve them can be central to this.
Students often comment that they ‘do not see the point’ in school; they can’t understand why they are studying maths or literature. If they identify and plot the necessary path to entering a chosen career, it is easier for them to understand why school is so important to their lives. If a student identifies that they want to go into advertising and notices that, in order to land a job in advertising, most candidates need a degree, they may be inspired to work harder in class, and even more so in relevant subjects. Ultimately, this will increase their enthusiasm, help to them focus, and raise their attainment.
Using Your Student Planners
Customised student planners are an ideal place to help students get a grasp of what they want to do and how they are going to get there.
You can include pages which outline a number of career options. This can be a really valuable for students, and can also be used in lessons or tutorials; teachers can go through the pages with their students, answering questions and providing further insight.
A student planner can also be used to outline career paths and explaining what qualifications and skills are needed to enter a career.