Educational achievement and what affects it, has been debated for many years. Historically, it was believed that an individual's academic success completely depended on that person's intelligence quotient. They also acknowledged a meritocratic system and consequently contributed academic success to wanting to achieve the best jobs later in life. (Carr and Kemmis, 1986). This functionalist view still exists, however there is a growing belief that a number of different factors have a more prominent impact on educational achievement. During this assignment three areas that affect educational achievement will be deciphered and links between principles and theory will be made to observations in the placement school (school X).
(X primary school offsted inspection report 23/11/2006), states that
" X is a large primary school situated in an area of considerable social disadvantageâ€¦.The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is significantly higher than the averageâ€¦â€¦..A very large majority of pupils are from ethnic minority groupsâ€¦â€¦..Over one quarter of the pupils are at the early stages of learning English." (page 1)
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There are a wide range of factors that affect educational achievement, from very obscure issues such as classroom personalities to the complex area of special educational needs (S.E.N), however the focus will be on children with English as an additional language (E.A.L), ethnic minority children and poverty, as these areas are particularly relevant to school X. Throughout this assignment constant reference to inclusion and inclusive practice will be made.
In 2007, the mayor of London published a report on the state of London's children, he found, 41% (51% in inner London) live in poverty that's 650000 children - 29% in the rest of England, and, 39% of children living in inner London are eligible for free-school meals (FSM) compared to 14% nationally. Whilst these statistics appear alarmingly high, it is important to apply poverty relatively, (Riddell, R 2003), signifies it as a lack of opportunity to participate in, and have access to, what is considered reasonably available in a society. Oppenheim (1993:4), explains relative poverty as "going short materially, socially and emotionally."
It is clear that poverty is prevalent within urban communities and it is therefore essential to discover the affects it has on children and their educational abilities.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (Hills 1996) looked at diet. Families with a low income will often indulge in processed, low cost foods, which in turn, results in increased tiredness and illness. (Whitty et al. 1998), discovered that poverty reduces a child's self esteem and motivation, two key elements in school, furthermore "children will be vulnerable to low levels of self-efficacy" (ibid, page 113). (Matheson and Babb 2002) state that, poverty impacts on parent's ability to help their children with homework. (Riddell, R 2003) notes the absence of cultural artefacts at home, meaning educational equipment, this clearly puts a child at a disadvantage.
Despite the affects highlighted, it is important to note studies, which identify a positive twist. A number of researchers illustrate how children in poverty thrive in school as it is a place of escapism for them and that inner London pupils who are eligible for (FSM) are amongst the highest achievers nationally for this group (State of London's children 2007).
Unsurprisingly, these theoretical revelations have resulted in an influx of government initiatives; all with the pervading "every child matters" (ECM) pledge to entitle every child with an equal opportunity to lead a healthy and prosperous life. Education Action Zones (EAZ); Excellence in Cities (EiC); Sure start; Extended Services are just a few initiatives attempting to reduce the affect of poverty, however (Horgan and Raffo et al) note the importance of making them coherent.
In school X it was clear that many children came from areas of considerable social disadvantage. It was also clear that school X was prepared to pro actively challenge poverty, and it all starts at the beginning of the day. Breakfast club begins at 7.30am and the school lays on a full healthy breakfast at a very affordable price. This is important as it relieves the burden and cost from struggling parents. Importantly, it also combats the affect of bad diets, which was identified above by (Hills 1996) and (Whitty et al 1998).
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The schools inclusion policy is clear in that " they want to give all pupils a high self esteem and confidence and a desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world." The teacher I observed (teacher Y) incorporated this into every lesson. He/she secretly paid particular attention to children from financially strained backgrounds and involved them heavily in the lesson. This clearly improved their experience in school and in turn minimized the vulnerability to low levels of self-efficacy, identified by (Whitty et al).
The Rose Review (2009) documented the importance of parental involvement with schools. School X invited parents every Friday for an informal meeting. The main purpose of this was to make parents feel included in their child's learning and have the opportunity to share experiences with other parents. It is hoped that this will empower parents to provide their children with more educational support (Macnaughton 2003). This added involvement will also increase a child's motivation. Furthermore this seeks to challenge the notion that poverty impacts on parent's ability to help with homework and low motivational level. (Matheson and Babb 2002).
Black and ethnic minority young people and educational disadvantage is an issue, which creates a number of different arguments. It is argued that ethnic minority children suffer from material disadvantage, as the large majority of them fall below the poverty line. This affects their education in a number of ways, some of which are discussed above, (Oppenheim (1993:4) Whitty et al. (1998) Riddell, R (2003)). Jean (2005) writes about different attitudes on education possessed by ethnic minority groups, particularly afro Caribbean children, who are at risk of cultural deprivation. This is because education and school in the household environment is viewed differently and education may not be quantified in terms of success at the national curriculum.
Interestingly, (Arora 2005) discuss how prevalent misunderstanding is in the classroom, and how innocent gestures, body movements and posture can be misconstrued by class teachers. For example, Somali children look down to the ground when in trouble out of respect, however this can easily be misinterpreted as a lack of remorse. This leads on to theories behind labelling and the resultant self-fulfilling prophecies, indeed if an ethnicity is labelled as being less able in school it may result in individuals adopting that attitude, despite the fact that they may be potential high achievers (Amin et al 2008).
It seems up until the 1990's the onus was on the ethnic minority student and family underachievement, however in recent years the focus has changed onto the failure of the system to provide for black and minority students. Subsequently, and in response, we have seen a number of initiatives. (Aiming High: the African Caribbean Achievement Project) was launched by the DfES in 2003, it provides extra resources to encourage an aiming higher attitude. Ecellence in Cities (EIC) is another initiative, which promotes consultation between inner city schools. This effective idea allows schools to compare ideas that have worked well in improving attainment levels, school experience and inclusion.
School X has a 83% (school X Registration Data 2009/2010) ethnic minority composition and it understandably employs a no tolerance attitude to racism and a highly inclusive approach to teaching and schooling. Perhaps most strikingly this is exampled as soon as you walk through the entrance of the school. They have two big displays created by the children. They are of different nations and include some interesting facts. This is repeated in every classroom. It also has pictures of famous academics from each nation who have achieved well in education. This is important as it acts as a motivational tool for children (Cohen 2006) and challenges the stereotype of underachievement (Amin et al 2008). In an attempt to gain a better understanding of cultures, school X encourages parents of children from different nationalities to meet up once a week in the evening. This allows parents to include themselves within the school and their children's learning. Importantly, teachers gain a greater cultural understanding which in turn will help them tackle a whole range of issues more successfully. (Arora 2005). School X, participates fully in the (EIC) programme and in collaboration with other local schools is currently attempting to bring the wider community into schools.
Annual statistics produced by the DfES, indicate a link between children who are entitled to (FSM), minority ethnic children and children with English as an additional language (E.A.L). In inner London a staggering 54.1% of children speak English as an Additional Language (DCSF 2009). Pupils learning English as an additional language (EAL) share many common characteristics with pupils whose first language is English. Many of their learning needs are similar to those of other children learning in our schools. However, these pupils also have distinct and different needs from other pupils by virtue of the fact that they are learning in and through another language, and that they come from cultural backgrounds and communities with different understandings and expectations of education, language and learning. (Gibbons 1993)
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(Cummins 1984) is one of the main thinkers around the issue of E.A.L. He differentiates between basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) and cognitive and academic language proficiency (CALP). BICS, which is social language, is identified as being obtained quicker than CALP, which is the academic language used in subjects such as science. Moreover, Cummins furthered his research and developed a quadrant. This quadrant separates cognitively undemanding tasks and cognitively demanding tasks and context embedded tasks and context reduced. Vitally, this allows teachers to adapt there material in accordance with this quadrant. For example an E.A.L child with very little language requires a cognitively undemanding context reduced activity, to remain alive to learning.
It is also thought that bilingualism can act as an assistance in obtaining a second language and the level of competency within the first language is reflected in the additional, (Gibbons 1993) explains how a good level of first language (L1) is used when interpreting the additional language (L2), and skills and techniques used in L1 are adopted for L2.
It is particularly important to ensure E.A.L children feel valued and included. (Knowles 2006), states effective teaching and learning is an essential part of E.A.L inclusion. E.A.L children may require specifically planned tasks and many benefit from a learning support assistant.
In school X, with the support of the ethnic minority achievement grant (EMAG), many provisions have been enforced to prevent the under performance of E.A.L pupils. Most notably, resources in the classroom. Teacher Y employed these constantly to support the E.A.L pupils understanding through visual clues and practical engagement (Cummins 1984).
Furthermore, Teacher Y, would always introduce a topic through open ended questions, this seemed to really engage the E.A.L pupils, he also welcomed and valued their input, which in turn developed their confidence (Gibbons 1993), and made them feel included (Knowles 2006).
It is unquestionably the secure small group work, which has the highest benefit. School X ensures that all E.A.L students have these sessions timetabled in. This controlled, secure and focused environment seemed to double their engagement and learning capabilities.
School X, in addition to teaching the curriculum through English, placed a great deal of emphasis on the importance of maintaining your personal and cultural identity. An example of this was the large displays produced by the children, which contained interesting facts about a number of different nationalities. This was a prominent feature throughout the school.
In conclusion, this "unequivocal expectation" stated by the DfES in 2004 set the benchmark for all schools and teachers, and I firmly believe that this is being reached to the best of their abilities. The key to preventing this underachievement is support. The support must be relevant to the vastly different needs of children who underachieve. An E.A.L pupil at entry level must be supported differently to that of a child exposed to racism. This poses a huge challenge, which inevitably requires a range of resources and specific teacher training.
Importantly, and particularly in urban schooling it is essential to "appreciate the broader and political context of urbanized life" (page 15)(Maguire et al 2006). It is fatal to stigmatise children as disruptive, a problem or a deficit, and indeed this attitude will impact on the success of challenging underachievement. Instead it should be a celebration of the diversity and wealth of education that each individual child can bring into school. To a large extent this is seen in school X, and a large proportion of the children spoken to feel valued and included.
Ultimately the power to achieve is in the hands of the school and teacher, and collaboratively with a strong school ethos, which values inclusion and diversity and with informed teaching, underachievement of groups can be challenged. I strongly believe that with continued funding and support from teachers, all children will succeed against the odds.
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