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Every child deserves the right to an education that will aid them to achieve skills and qualifications used throughout their lives. For many years now, this has been a fundamental aim across Englands Government system, highlighting the need for a change in the quality and accessibility of services, supporting all children in the process of overcoming potential obstacles, enabling them to fulfil their potential.
"All children deserve this kind of good start in life, regardless
of where they live, where they go to school, or their family
background." (DCSF 2009 p.2)
For many children, school provides an array of rich and rewarding experiences, allowing them the opportunity to flourish in their learning and succeed to their potential. This however does not occur for all children, with previous evidence highlighting that pupils from poorer backgrounds achieve less than their peers. Nevertheless, addressing this issue has become a fundamental mission among Government leaders, school senior management and teachers, aiming to break the link between disadvantage and low educational achievement. To facilitate these ambitious aims, the Government implemented through the Children's Act (2004), a legislative programme that would employ a reform within the Education system. Every Child Matters: Change for children (2004) outlined a national framework that would establish programmes of change, building services around the needs of all children and young people, aiming to maximise opportunity and minimise risk. Through five key outcomes: being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic well being, the ambition for the national framework was to narrow the gap between children's attainment levels and aim to promote positive well being in childhood and later life. The primary focus was to outline a national framework for change, designed to improve and integrate services, working together more effectively to meet the needs of children and young people. The outcomes for the delivery of cooperative services were to ensure that all children and young people be safeguarded from harm, have better opportunities to develop and reach their potential and receive effective support, where necessary, from targeted services. Furthermore, parents and carers would have better access to services they require, receiving advice and support where necessary. The Every Child Matters (2004) framework set out a vision for a personalised and high quality, integrated service, available for all to access. In order to break the link between disadvantage and low achievement, and have every child successfully attain the five specific outcomes, those that work closely with children and young people need to understand the consequences of disadvantaged upbringings and what barriers they can present.
The causes behind poor upbringings are diverse and varied, but must be noted that money may not be the sole reason. Poor housing and inadequate diet are significant factors; however, cultural barriers to learning can also have a dramatic affect on children, especially for those that live in deprived communities, predominantly within the inner city. Parental opinions of the value of schooling act as a fundamental factor as low aspirations and scepticism about education can influence children's beliefs. The impact of this can become more apparent when children start attending full time schooling, as the range of their educational experiences can vary dramatically. Some children, from more advantaged homes, may have had access to a greater variety of educational experiences such as books, visits to interesting places like museums and theatres, as well as the wider world, promoting learning at an early stage. Unfortunately, however, other parents may not have the money, resources, skills or confidence to provide their children with such experiences, possibly affecting their learning development. The significance of this is immense, influencing a child's future educational experiences unless tackled at an early age. In the report Breaking the link between disadvantage and low attainment: Everyone's business (2009), it is expressed that;
"When children start school already behind their peers, this can
set up a continuing cycle of under - performance. They find it hard
to keep up and so may learn more slowly, hence falling even further
behind." (DCSF 2009 p.18)
Breaking this cycle of under achievement requires Government, schools and health care agencies to try to promote ways to combat the effects of poverty as children from disadvantaged backgrounds can be at increased risk of being unable to access the curriculum, and lose confidence in their ability to succeed. Within the Enjoy and achieve outcome of Every Child Matters (2004), it is outlined that children should be ready for their school experience, and attend and enjoy their learning through active participation. Children should play an active role in achieving national education standards, furthering this with their personal and social development. Previous research has shown that it is paramount that teacher's identify those who are falling behind early on through assessment, bringing about a personalised approach to teaching and learning. According to Gilbert (2006), personalisation should be a fundamental feature of teaching, subsequently raising the expectations for pupils, ensuring the intended outcomes match their expectations. As it is believed that pupils from disadvantaged groups within our society are least likely to achieve well, the Every Child Matters (2004) agenda emphasises the importance of every child, regardless of their social background, having an unassailable education:
"Children and young people learn and thrive when they are healthy,
safeguarded from harm and engaged. The evidence shows clearly
that educational achievement is the most effective way to improve
outcomes for poor children and break the cycle of deprivation."
(DCSF 2004 p.8)
This further builds upon Gilbert's (2006) emphasis of personalised teaching and learning, as reducing the persistent and unacceptable gaps in average attainment, between different social groups, requires focus upon what essential knowledge and skills children require in order to thrive in our changing world. This lays further emphasis on the importance of teachers acquiring fundamental qualities in order to aid all children, regardless of their background, on both an educational and social level. Although an outstanding pedagogical approach to teaching is fundamental, teachers must primarily understand why some children fail to access education and reach their potential. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, often living within an inner city environment, could experience an array of barriers to their learning, encouraging schools and local authorities to implement and adopt strategies to address them. Within Breaking the link between disadvantage and low attainment (2009) it was expressed that the effects of disadvantage can be cumulative and persistent, typically leading to poor pupils making slower progress, often attributed to various factors. As previously outlined, gaps within children's cognitive ability, before the age of five, could lay the foundations for low achievement, further accentuating the need of multi agency cooperation. The Every Child Matters (2004), framework emphasises the notion that providing support for families is imperative, promoting the benefits of early learning experiences and the importance of the home learning environment. Lack of parental support could lower children's aspirations, influencing their behaviour and attendance at school, thus creating personal barriers to overcome. Responding to this, according to Balls (2009), requires schools and teachers to work closely with parents and families, applying fundamental behaviour and absence policies. With addition to these social barriers, children from deprived upbringings are often more likely to be recognised as having Special Educational Needs (SEN). Balls (2010) expressed that the identification of Special Educational Needs (SEN) should not be confused with the belief of underperformance or not meeting potential. Through actively addressing special educational provision, teachers should bring about personalised teaching and learning approaches, implementing appropriate interventions where necessary. This further builds upon a previous Government report, Quality Standards for Special Educational Needs (SEN) support and Outreach services (2008). The standards outlined aimed to guide the development of provision and support, assisting local authorities and others in determining appropriate resources and evaluation processes. Furthermore, the report highlighted how quality Special Educational Needs provision can contribute directly to the five Every Child Matters (2004) outcomes.
Understanding the social and educational barriers that children living within the inner city can experience allows teachers to, as the Every Child Matters (2004) agenda highlighted, support pupils wider well - being, and take a personalised approach to learning. One significant project that aimed to bring about changes to combat the disadvantage and low attainment link was that of The Extra Mile: How schools succeed in raising aspirations in deprived communities (2008). The project aspired to explore in detail the barriers that children from deprived communities face, seeking ways to improve their chances to succeed at school. The focus of the project was not solely on children from extreme poverty, but more on children whose families have been poor for generations, often living within communities with high crime levels and low skilled, poorly paying jobs. The impact of this generational poverty can further build upon children's barriers to learning and influence achievement at school, as parental cynicism about the importance of education, can be made more apparent:
"Parents may have had bad experiences of their own at school,
and this rubs off on their children. Sometimes, the stresses of
their situation are reflected in the behaviour of their children, who
come to school troubled and wary, and not mentally prepared
for learning." (DCSF 2008 p.3)
With the aim of raising aspirations for all children, the project leaders investigated, through visiting excellent schools within deprived areas of England, the characteristics that teachers and school organisations require so to bring about change within education. Research showed that dynamic leaders bring a commitment, drive and determination, motivating staff and creating a 'can do' ethos across the school. Furthermore, the schools visited aimed to ensure that staff and pupils have an array of opportunities to grow and progress, generating quality classroom experiences, tailoring the curriculum to the needs of their pupil intake. This builds upon the Every Child Matters (2004) agenda, stressing the importance of personalised teaching and learning, facilitating all children, regardless of their background or start in life. Furthermore, through adopting a personalised pedagogy, teachers can aid children to attain their potential, building formidable foundations for future learning. Pedagogy and Personalisation (2007) highlighted that;
"Personalised learning means that children and young people,
whatever their starting point, are able to fulfil their potential as
learners." (ibid 2007 p.7)
For all teachers, it is imperative that they engage their pupils in learning through a positive and motivating ethos; however, within the inner city environment it is evident how this encouraging approach to teaching and learning can significantly narrow the attainment gaps between children. Balls (2009) expressed that the success of this very much relies upon a fundamental strategy that would promote equality and inclusion within every school. Through developing a universal system, Balls (2009) aimed for all schools and teachers to set high aspirations for children's achievements, tailoring learning experiences to specific needs and ensuring that every child has someone within the school that can support their development. This specific outcome builds upon a previously implemented strategy intended to promote excellent teaching and learning within the inner city. Excellence in Cities (2001) identified the benefits of individual support for children, introducing Learning Mentors to improve opportunities for disadvantaged pupils. Working alongside teaching staff and within the school's pastoral support system, learning mentors help children to get the most out of their school experience, working with parents to enable them to further support their child.
Teaching, as a profession, is one of the most demanding jobs; physically, emotionally and intellectually, however teaching within the inner city environment, can bring about further challenges for both established and training teachers. Meeting the needs of inner city children requires hard work and dedication, building upon established partnerships to bring about change. Quality learning experiences are imperative; however, within the inner city these experiences can change children's future prospects. Breaking the low attainment and disadvantage link, through understanding barriers to learning, requires teachers to ensure that all children have the opportunities to thrive and develop, obtaining the Every Child Matters (2004), outcomes, and lay the foundations for future learning.