Poverty and educational failure have been greatly examined and researched in recent years. While sociologists and researchers may have had different approaches, they all came to the same conclusion: for the huge majority of children, those born into poverty have the least chance of educational success and therefore the greatest chance of educational failure. As a result of this failure, their chances of success as an adult were more limited while the probability of moving into crime was higher.
In May 1998, the Labour government planned to set up 25 Education Action Zones within 5 years. The zones would cover on average 20 schools, only 2-3 being secondary schools and the rest being primary schools and nurseries. They would be run by a combination of the school leaders, governors and parents, including the local education authority and also local and national businesses.
Why have educational priority areas?
In the late 1960s, the Labour government designated schools in deprived areas as “Educational Priority Areas” and promised to give them extra money for school-building projects. It had also been proposed by the Plowden Committee, whose idea it was that teachers should receive a special allowance for working in difficult schools. The education priority areas were gradually absorbed into more general aid programmes for deprived areas. They failed to make radical changes to the nature of schooling. Hence the introduction of EAZ’s, which was all part of Tony Blair’s promise to concentrate government policy on “education, education, education”.
In January 2001, the first inspection of an education action zone reported that the initiative was beginning to raise standards. An inspector from the Office of Standards in Education (OFSTED) reported that 15 primary schools had improved at a faster rate than anywhere else in the local authority. Test results also improved in the area and truancy had fallen. There were fewer exclusions and schools were leaving special measures rapidly. Among the strengths that helped in the improvement of the schools in the EAZ, was the involvement of parents. Within the EAZ reported on by OFSTED, 450 parents received accreditation in a training scheme for classroom helpers. Parents were given theory lessons in areas of school life such as literacy strategy and tackling bullying and were given practical lessons in preparing materials and assisting teachers. Although a lot of success was seen among primary schools in the EAZ, the same was not repeated in the three secondary schools in the action zone. The action zones director was quoted as saying “Schools have had to be in competition for so long that it has damaged the natural partnerships between them. But they face common issues. They could be more daring and trying to find solutions.”
In December 2008, ability test scores were taken from children in the UK and US and showed the poorer the family, the less well prepared the children were for school. The US study found that poor parenting and the home environment were major factors in a child’s failure at school. The US study suggested early years “compensatory education programmes” could help to kick-start a child’s education. The study was led by Professor Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University. She wanted to find what ability gaps occurred between income groups and how large they were and what factors explained them.
Waldfogel found that four year olds from the poorest families scored 34 points out of 80 in literacy tests compared with 69 points out of 80 for the richest families. A similar test in the UK found three year olds from the poorest families scored 32 points out of 80 in school readiness tests, compared with 63 points for those from the richest homes. In England the differences between the social classes persist all the way up the educational ladder. A study said “the environments of low-income children differ in many dimensions from those of more affluent children. For example access to toys, books, computers and learning related activities may be directly affected by lack of income”.
Professor Waldfogel said her findings were “very concerning because with children starting out at school so unequal, it’s very difficult to imagine they will end school on an equal footing.” She said what surprised her in her study the most was the extent to which the way children were parented and how they were influenced by their home learning environment had an impact on their ability to learn once they reached school. Qualities which affected the child’s ability seemed to be how sensitive and responsive a parent was to their child’s needs when they were young.
Professor Waldfogel went on to say there were some useful “compensatory education” programmes which could help bring children from poorer backgrounds forward. In England where all three and four year olds are entitled to free part time and pre-school day care, she suggested ministers might consider improving parenting help for poor families when their children are young. She cited a scheme herself called Nurse Family Partnerships.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex