All Selection LA suffers biggest gap in UK

mistemina's picture
Buckinghamshire Minority Education Concern. BMEC Response to Buckinghamshire Standards Report 2014/2015
Riaz Ahmed 17/6/15

The biggest concern, as for the past 55 years (1960), is the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged still stands at -41%, Black Caribbean are -35%., Pakistani Mirpuri are - 38%.


The report highlights that “Bucks is a relatively affluent area” and has appointed “Champion for Children” to ensure all fulfil their potential.

BMEC states that, therefore there should no reason for the big Gap.

BCC Schools:

•85% pupil attend Good/ Outstanding Primary School. WARNING: These figures have been massaged to include Grammar and Private Schools.
•75% pupil attend Good/ Outstanding 2ndry School. P2. Again see previous Warning
•100% of Nursery are Good/ Outstanding - 85% pupils.P6

We question this as most non-selective secondries were rated Requires Improvement.

The Gap

Early yearsPakistani -8%
Black Caribbean -5%p7Disadvantaged -10%
Primary KS1Black Caribbean & Pakistani-10%p11

Primary KS2Pakistani -11Mirpuri = -30%
Black Caribbean -20
Disadvantaged -22p12
BMEC states that the Gap increases with age

Secondary KS4. %5+A-C GCSE Pakistani-27 (70-51/70) Mirpuri = -38%
Black Caribbean-53 (70-33/70)

BMEC focus is to increase pupils attending non-selective to be Good/outstanding schools while these schools are rated RI.

Bucks Minority Education Concern Conference/Workshop Saturday 26th September 2015
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mistemina's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 10:36


Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 10:40

At the risk of venturing where the wise fear to tread, there is no ethnic gap when CATs scores are taken into account. The evidence/proof of this is in Hackney, where comprehensive CATs score data are available. However, you are right that good all-ability comprehensive schools with a balanced intakes can have a big impact in reducing all social/ethnic imbalances in educational outcomes. This again is demonstrated clearly in Hackney. See Part 4 of 'Learning Matters'.

This is very good news. It supports the view that if primary education was to be focussed onto developing general cognitive ability instead of maximising the proportion getting L4 in SATs for marketisation purposes, then average ethnic school performance differences would begin to decline. This was the pattern in the USA until the more recent marketisation reforms.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 10:52

A cursory glance at the Bucks Standards Report seems to indicate that kids on free school meals are struggling, too. I'm imagining they contain quite a few white working class kids. The evidence seems to be pointing to a problem with selection. This is not to dismiss the importance of cultural/identity factors in the mix, but when you start to drill down into the detail you get a picture of who are the winners and losers in this set up.
I help in two local schools in my area with reading. I live in a pretty white, agricultural area. All my struggling readers have trouble decoding, but even greater trouble with comprehension. There's no other language in the background to blame their lack of development on. These are monoglot English speakers and yet I often find they don't understand what they have successfully decoded. They are 10 years old.
What do you put the attainment gap down to amongst the kids from Pakistani and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds? And why does it widen as the kids go through school? I don't have any experience of this field and am interested in your diagnosis.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 13:03

John Bajina

It does look as if Roger is right and there is no particular issue here except for the occasional 'outrider' result.

For instance, at KS4 Pakistani students in Buckinghamshire achieve at the same level as Pakistani students nationally. Mixed Race White/Black Caribbean students in Buckinghamshire achieve at the same level as nationally.

Therefore, whatever it is that is depressing the relative performance of the Black Caribbean cohort, it is more likely to be a characteristic of the cohort than some feature of the school system. It would be incredible that some factor like selection would act to the detriment of someone with two Jamaican parents while having no discernible effect on someone with only one!

Overall, the picture is one of a county whose schools and students are performing consistently above the national average.


The Millenium Cohort Study shows that differences in cognitive abilities between ethnic groups is there from the outset

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 13:31

Whoa - I didn't say all of that Barry! I strongly believe that the right sort of teaching can make a big difference to the cognitive development of all pupils. This is obviously especially important for the slower/later developers. These pupils need to be in the 'best' (pedogogically aware) schools and to be taught by the 'best' (trained in developmental methods) teachers. Splitting children into 'higher' and 'lower ' level schools is unlikely to be best for either the 11 plus passers or the failers.

The Buckinghamshire selective system appears to be performing above the national average because Buckinghamshire is not a 'national average' county in terms of school intakes. In Part 4 of 'Learning Matters' Section 4.9, you will find a very informative comparison between the education systems of Cumbria and Hackney.

In relation to addressing the challenge of ethnic cognitive ability differences a great deal appears to have been achieved in London and not just in Hackney.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 13:16

We must tread carefully here. All I will say is that there are well documented differences in mean adult IQs between both ethnic groups and social classes. This reflects into CATs scores differences in their children. There are many possible non-genetic explanations for this that do not give succour to the far right in politics. Children that have problems with English comprehension will not score well on the Verbal CATs test. Neither will they score well on the Quantitative CATs test because the questions are set in English. It is much more problematic when such children do score well on the 'Non Verbal' CATs test, but that is another huge subject.

As for widening gaps, that is to be expected and is a universal pattern . Who could have kept pace with the intellectual development of Albert Einstein from 11 -18? If you believe Piaget then an explanation emerges. Piaget believes in the development of cognitive sophistication in stages. There are particular hurdles on the journey where children get held up. In the school years the critical stage is from Concrete (descriptive) to Formal (quantitative and predictive) thinking. Shayer and Adey researched this and developed teaching strategies to 'accelerate' children through this stage. See Part 5 in 'Learning Matter' and especially Sections 5.2 - 5.6.

The key to progress is for children to learn to 'talk to themselves' about their cognitive problems (metacognition), and then to be encouraged to share these thoughts with their peers and their teacher in the context of a curriculum that exposes them to escalating cognitive challenge and support.

There is no time for this and little interest in it in a high stakes, marketised, results - focussed system

Michele -Lowe's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 14:39

Hm, Barry. On reading the report it says the difference in cognitive development - not ability - is there when the children enter reception class. That is to say, compulsory schooling aged 4 rising 5. What we don't know about is which and how many of them attended a nursery prior to that and what kind of early education through play/socialising/exploration etc they received.

Full disclosure here, I worked in a nursery for 7 years and am trained in pre-school development. Naturally, I think this makes a difference. Certainly, the reception teachers were clear it did, particularly in respect of children's curiosity and readiness to engage with classroom activities. We worked under the Foundation Phase which is heavy on experiential learning and supporting children to make discoveries through play.

Many disparage this sector completely. I do find that the younger the children you educate, the less esteem you're held in. It all seems touchy-feely let-the-children-play sort of thing. Properly done, in a year and a half you have got them ready for reading, doing elementary maths, listening and speaking, understanding what is read to them and generally able to get on with their peer group. It's be interesting to know about nursery attendance prior to school in these groups. It might be another missing element in the jigsaw.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 25/06/2015 - 09:24

I agree the pre-school phase is vital. Particularly listening and speaking. Some research has pointed to the possibility of disadvantaged children having heard an amazing 23 million fewer words than middle class peers before starting school. That's bound to have an effect.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 25/06/2015 - 10:46

Yes, but this doesn't mean we should write off the educational potential of children from 'deprived' backgrounds.

I write about this here, and the LSN piece also appears as Section 5.2 in 'Learning Matters'

There is a large amount of really suspect research in this area. Your link won't work for me so I can't comment on it.

The point I try to make is that mental 'software' - the level of sophistication of personal concepts, is more important than a lot of dubious guff about synapses and brain scans.

I include a possibly flawed analogy that considers the power of computer chess playing programs. It is the software that counts. Using the same software on a higher spec computer will not affect the outcome of games even if it speeds them up. (I do accept that really sophisticated chess playing programs need more powerful computers to run them).

The point is that developmental teaching methods work with pupils at all developmental levels and so it is very important that all pupils have access to a stimulating curriculum that facilitates such development.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 15:31

Barry - the reason why Buckinghamshire scores above the national average at KS4 might be something to do with the make-up of the 2013/15 GCSE cohort in state-funded secondary schools.

The national average for previously low-attaining pupils in last year's GCSE cohort was 15.9%. For Buckinghamshire, it was 11.1%.

The national average for previous middle-attainers was 51.7%. In Buckinghamshire, just 40% were in this ability range.

The national average for previous high-attainers was 32.3%. In Buckinghamshire, it was 48.9%. In Buckinghamshire schools, therefore, nearly half of the GCSE cohort in 2013/14 were previously high attainers.

It should be expected, therefore, that Buckinghamshire's GCSE results would be higher than a county with far fewer previously high attainers.

Cambridgeshire, a fully-comprehensive county with approximately the same number of secondary schools as Buckinghamshire, had a cohort which almost matched the national average (15.6%, 51.8% and 32.6% respectively). The national average for pupils achieving the benchmark 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English in 2013/14 was 58.9%. Cambridgeshire scored 58.6%, very near the national average.

Judging LAs (and schools) on results alone can be misleading.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 25/06/2015 - 09:14


No one is 'judging' the LA, whether on results or not. My point was in response to an OP that seemed to suggest some terrible injustice tantamount to institutional racism was going on, to the detriment of ethnic minorities. It clearly isn't.

As for the higher prior ability profile - the report says that Bucks performs only slightly (one percentage point) better than average at KS2, so maybe there is a pull effect from the grammar schools, attracting in high performers from neighbouring LAs. I don't know whether anyone has looked at this, either in Bucks or in other counties where grammars survive.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/06/2015 - 12:03

Barry - I assumed your comment about Bucks being a 'county whose schools and students are performing consistently above the national average' to mean it was a good LA.

I think you're on to something about the 'pull' effect of grammar schools. In Lincolnshire, for example, Bourne Grammar is near the borders of Rutland and Peterborough. It recruits from both these LAs as well as from neighbouring Lincs town of Stamford. This reduces the proportion of high-ability pupils in nearby non-selective schools. Inspectors visiting Casterton Business and Enterprise College in Rutland noted the academy had 'fewer than average' pupils with 'the highest or lowest attainment.' Casterton loses high ability pupils to Bourne Grammar. The non-selective school, Stamford Welland Academy (was Stamford Queen Eleanor), on the other hand, had a greater proportion of previously low-attaining pupils (31%) in the 2013/14 GCSE cohort than the national average (15.9%). Queen Eleanor (as it was) suffered a double whammy: losing high-ability pupils to Bourne Grammar and attracting a large proportion of previously low-attaining pupils.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/06/2015 - 12:05

Barry - the 'pull effect' of grammars can be seen in the two LAs, Trafford and Knowsley, both in Manchester.

Nicky Morgan likes to compare Trafford (selective) with nearby Knowsley (comprehensive) to the detriment of the latter. It's not a fair comparison because Knowsley has fewer secondaries, more FSM and SEN pupils than Trafford (see here). The intake of the 2013/14 GCSE cohort also differed markedly:

Knowsley: 18.2% previously low attaining pupils
59% previously middle attainers
22.8% previously high attainers.

Trafford: 8.4% previously low attaining pupils
42.3% previously middle attainers
49.3% previously high attainers.

It's hardly surprising Trafford scores far higher in league table stakes than Knowsley.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 15:55

I think touchy-feely nursery schools are great and that this sort of cognitive development is important. Most EU countries think so too from the little I know about it - mainly Germany.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Thu, 25/06/2015 - 12:04

I do agree, Roger, about the gap between potential and its development. You might have the potential to be an early reader, but that won't happen unless someone sits with you, reads to you and teaches you how to read for yourself, although some kids do pick up on text in adverts and I had one kid (just 3 years of age) who turned over his plastic plate and said "That says IKEA" because he recognised the characteristic typeface.
It may well be true that kids from deprived backgrounds have 23 million fewer words than middle-class peers. Certainly, my struggling monoglot readers lack a wide vocabulary. But with kids from ethnic minority backgrounds it would be hard to nail down hard statistics about a lack of vocabulary. You can measure what they know in English, but we probably don't know how much they know in the mother tongue of their parents. So many variables.
The best part of early years education is that you can educate the child's whole being - we do music, singing (lots - this is Wales), dance, painting, outside play, hide and seek games, water play, sand play, stories, talk time on the mat, maths games, jigsaw puzzles, division games (sharing 9 bones fairly between 3 toy dogs) spatial games and so on. It's the part of education which tackles kids all round abilities and you invariably find the thing they're naturally good at. The point is that you can teach early maths via painting, sand play, water play etc. Properly done it's cross disciplinary and well rounded. I just wish it extended further into primary education.

mistemina's picture
Thu, 25/06/2015 - 18:23

Janet, Barry et all,
Reminder. Bucks is a fully Selective County, parents may opt out their children out from taking the new 11+. This we do not do because we all know our children are bright and will pass the 11+. They do not without very expensive massive and sustained tutoring or private schools*. The new 11+ ensured this.

The ‘pull’ effect (penned by Barry) of Grammar Schools plays a large and dishonest part in perpetuating the our Advantaged/Disadvantaged Gap.
FOI figures from Bucks Grammar Schools confirms currently they have 28% of pupil from out-of-county i.e. best of the best from NW London, Berks, Herts, etc. In the previous year this figure was almost 50%.
Approx. 80% of Bucks pupil failing the 11+ pupils in Bucks, are placed in non-selective schools. These pupil arrive demotivated, very naturally, their parents are demotivated. We also get all the SEN cohort, all the PP cohort, all the traditional underachieving cohort (lower socio-economic, BME, EAL). All this with no extra funding.
The Ofsteds for Bucks Non-Selective schools as of this minute is:
No of Secondary non selective schools 20%
Outstanding 15.00%
Good 840.00%
Requires improvement 945.00%
Inadequate 210.00%

There is more to tell, much more, on this offensive and damaging Bucks Selection System.

* Only 46% of the cohort from private primary schools pass the New 11+.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Mon, 29/06/2015 - 15:14

Very interesting post John and all of the other contributors. I think Bucks is a difficult one. On the whole, Bucks is a wealthy county but there are pockets that are not. It is possible, then, that the wealthy areas hide the dismal performance of schools in the less affluent areas. These schools have a higher than average % of ethnic minority/EAL pupils often heavily represented on SEN registers. Many of these children don't actually belong on these registers at all. Although there has been some progress in closing the gap, I think teachers in such schools would still identify a significant difference in attainment of Pakistani heritage pupils as compared with the white British middle class children.

Aylesbury is a good case to consider. Aylesbury has three grammar schools which take only around 16% of the Aylesbury schools population. Most of those getting through the 11+ come from outside Aylesbury. Moreover, as John has pointed out, there are a large number of pupils attending he grammar schools who come from more affluent areas outside Bucks. The number of ethnic minority pupils and pupils on free school meals is small. Moreover, it would seem that the new 11+ has seen the number of Pakistani heritage children admitted to these schools dwindle even further. Thus the majority of Aylesbury pupils mainly attend the three upper schools (secondary moderns) - The Grange School, Mandeville School and Aylesbury Vale Academy (AVA).

Aylesbury Vale Academy (formerly Quarrendon) has a history of poor performance. The transfer to an Academy seems to have made very little difference. Mandeville applied to become an Academy. As I understand it, the prospective sponsors have this year pulled out. This appears to be because of the school's very poor performance and large debts ( I may be wrong). Mandeville is currently on its 3rd head teacher this year (the current head is temporary) and revolving door staff changes is the norm at present. Future not looking good. The Grange School has resisted Academy conversion and is presently on a 'Good' rating.

BCC keeps very quiet about Aylesbury.

In terms of the Pakistani children, they often dominate bottom sets in the upper schools (although there has been improvement in this regard at The Grange School). There is a culture of low expectations and (with apologies) anecdotal evidence of institutional racism. The parents are keen for their children to succeed but are hampered by a lack of understanding of the system and are therefore often reluctant to challenge their children's low grades and seeming poor progress. Usual problems of no/few reading books at home and not enough emphasis in schools on developing writing, reading and critical thinking skills among pupils who are weak in these key areas. Thus, too often Pakistani heritage children arrive at GCSEs with very inadequate basic literacy skills and therefore struggle to make the grades that reflect of their potential.

I suggest that not enough is being done for these Upper Schools because BCC has not got the will to put extra finances in to turn these schools around.

But things can be done. The biggest hurdle to be overcome is lifting the self-esteem of these children. I suggest that there is a pervasive culture among the parents that their children are not expected to succeed. Where teachers set the highest standards for the Pakistani pupils, champion the children in school meetings, tell the parents that they are working with them as a team to achieve the highest grades, put the pupils into top sets, provide extra literacy writing/reading challenges, tell them they ARE going to get to university because they have the potential, engage them in discussions about the world - in fact engage them in discussions and really listen to what they have to say - take them to the theatre, read newspapers, encourage debate etc., help mums and dads to help their children at home...these pupils do succeed.

mistemina's picture
Tue, 30/06/2015 - 12:45

(With apologies to the rest, this post is very Buckscentrtic, however the underlying problems may interest you.)
Georgina, so many good observations, thank you.
First i would add that our system is disastrous for both BME and the poorer White cohorts. There is whole scale 'masking' of figures in Bucks e.g. 55% of our school Secondary Moderns are in Requires Improvement or worse, did not get a mention. In a recent report by Red Quadrant to the Government Minister, the Inspector said BCC was more worried about how it looked than being judges inadequate on Children's Safeguarding.
Agree Aylesbury (and Wycombe our two main towns) they are poorly served by our LA, worse hit by the Gap. (My heart goes out to Mandeville, LA's incompetence has done this school no favours.)
In Wycombe, our community leaders will agree with your observations on parental expectation, their understanding of the system, parents challenges or wrong challenges, support at home, lack of finance of Secondary Moderns/Uppers, children's self-esteem, expectations, etc.
If you contact me, we would like a chat with you please.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 30/06/2015 - 13:37

Once again you are highlighting ethnicity, John.

The report is clear. Despite what Georgina says, children of Pakistani heritage in Bucks achieve at the same level as they do nationally.

The only minority that doesn't is the Black Caribbean one, which is so tiny in Bucks that the sample size could be too small.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Tue, 30/06/2015 - 14:36

Hi Barry, Can I ask, does the data you have cover a break down of individual schools in BCC? As I have suggested, there is a big difference in performance among schools in Bucks. A major part of this is what I call 'an economic affluence issue': the Pakistani heritage children in the secondary moderns tend to come from low income families. The 'gap' is easily masked by the wonderful results from some of the comprehensives and from the grammar schools. BCC likes, understandably, to promote these successful schools and to say s little s possible about he secondary modern schools.

As always, the issue of underachievement is complex and stats in reports do not reflect the true picture in individual schools. I suggest you look at the history of the three secondary modern schools I cited, I think you might find very clear evidence that there is a significant gap in performance between the ethnic minority children in these schools and other children in Bucks schools.

You mention the African Caribbean minority. You are right that they are a very small group, but in the last ten years or so there has been a significant improvement in the results for this group.

I feel slightly concerned that statistics for counties tend to mask the inequalities that do exist. When they do this, there is no incentive for Local Authorities to put in extra funding to help these struggling schools. For example, the Bucks Herald covered the problems at Mandeville by suggesting that the school wasn't doing enough to raise standards. This is unfair. It is the LA that is not doing enough.

I think John is right to highlight ethnicity as a key feature of our education system that needs addressing urgently, particularly in light of curriculum changes and changes in floor targets. You only have to look the numbers of these children in our schools - well over a million children in our schools are EAL. The number is rising.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 30/06/2015 - 16:14


We all need to re-think traditional attitudes in this area in the light of the performance of London schools. In some areas, for example, EAL students outperform those whose first language is English. Simon Burgess at Bristol University has produced research suggesting that the "London effect" (relatively better performance) may well have a lot to do with having lots of ethnic minority students. The days when everyone automatically regarded ethnic minorities and EAL students as likely to be a drag on performance are long gone.

I will see what data I can find about the schools you mention.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Tue, 30/06/2015 - 16:35

Barry, I'm not sure I'm happy with your suggestion that I have 'traditional' values with regard to EAL! We are all aware of the 'London effect' and I think we are all aware of the reasons for this.

To defend myself against the notion that I am somehow out of touch, I have worked internationally in EAL and here for many years and I am currently doing a doctorate on international students in higher education. I have to do my best to stay ahead of data and also of current thinking.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 30/06/2015 - 16:44

Sorry, Georgina!

I took You only have to look the numbers of these children in our schools – well over a million children in our schools are EAL. The number is rising as a shriek of almost UKIPian alarm! Glad it wasn't.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 30/06/2015 - 16:58

Barry and Georgina - you may already be aware there was a debate about support for EAL children on 23 June. Stuart Jackson MP talked eloquently about the challenges facing LAs with a significant number of EAL children.

However, it's important to differentiate between EAL children who are actually bi-lingual and fluent in both English and mother tongue and those EAL children who have little or no English. The former may be second/third generation immigrants while the latter may be (but not always as Jackson pointed out) recently arrived. Jackson said:

'Two Peterborough schools, Gladstone Primary and Beeches Primary, both in the Central ward, have more than 90% of EAL pupils. In one Peterborough school, 192 pupils speak a language that is called “other than English.” The biggest increase is among Lithuanian speakers, with 410 extra pupils: a 63% increase since 2012. Change is rapid. At one secondary school in Peterborough, two years ago, 40% of year 7 pupils were EAL; the figure is now 70%'.

He said how there were cultural reasons why many of Peterborough's Pakistani-heritage pupils struggle with English reading and writing. Is this the case in other cities? Does London have this problem? It would appear it does not to the same extent.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Tue, 30/06/2015 - 20:21

Barry, thanks for such a gracious response.

Janet, yes you are right about the differences between ethnic minority children who are second/third generation and international students who have recently arrived in this country. Some four years ago, these two groups were differentiated in that British Pakistanis, for example, were know as EMA pupils and pupils who had been in the UK for less than five years were known as EAL pupils. This was quite helpful in that the EAL and EMA pupils generally require different approaches when designing teaching and learning for individual pupils.

Since around 2010/11, even EAL is rarely heard in government -speak. As you probably know, at least 40 LAs closed down their advisory services for EAL pupils early on in the last parliament.

I think, Barry and Janet, that London is better geared up to teaching these pupils partly because London's ethos is so diverse. And, in any case, in some London schools the majority of the pupils are EAL.

Yes, I think there are lots of cultural reasons why a significant number of Pakistani heritage pupils struggle with reading and writing. For example, in many homes there is often one parent who does not speak English. Moreover there may not be a tradition of reading at home with a consequent absence of books.

I could expand on this but I'm sure it's quite boring for bloggers so I'll shut up now!

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 07:06

Georgina - Stuart Jackson didn't expand on the cultural reasons for Pakistani-heritage children in Peterborough struggling with reading and writing. Further information would, therefore, be enlightening especially when Morgan in a speech today will say that no child should be allowed to fall behind and it's the school's responsibility to make sure they don't.

This is unfair on those schools which take children who are handicapped by their background. Could you submit your thoughts as a story? If you're registered with the site you can easily do so and the story would be published after moderation.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 10:38

OK Janet. I'll have a go.

I expect you have seen Owen Jones's opinion piece in today's Guardian (This snooping will make Muslim pupils feel like the enemy) which is a response to government proposals to tackle radicalisation.

mistemina's picture
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 11:01

I wonder if this will help. We at the BMEC have identified the following reasons for underachievement in all cohorts in Bucks:
1. Socio-Economic, our old friend.
2. Selection. The old 11+ was discriminatory (Bucks LA, a couple of years ago.
The new 11+ has proven that unless the child is heavily tutored, it has very little chance of passing.
3. Expectation. Parent's, and until recently Teacher's and Schools, which is better in Bucks recently.
4. Peer pressure/disengagement. Self-explanatory.
5. System. The Bucks LA unwilling to address the problem. We have many examples of feet dragging here. Right wing dogma plays a big part in this.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 11:24

Georgina - yet at the same time the Gov't want schools to promote 'British Values' which are supposed to include tolerance. I'm a retired teacher and would have been uneasy at the thought I was supposed to report pupils who might (according to my opinion, nothing more) be open to radicalisation. This would have shut down discussion of any potentially difficult subject such as attitudes towards cartoons, freedom of speech, even what women should wear.

mistemina's picture
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 11:40

Gov’t want schools to promote ‘British Values’. I do not mind this, flawed as it is. With the failure of the communities concerned, police and the local authoruty, the Government has had to step in.
I seriously worry about the safety of the teachers. Can the Government ensure the safety of the teacher that acts as their spy in the classroom?
Of course they cannot.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 12:33


No it doesn't help, because, in my view, it is fundamentally misconceived.

First of all, your whole critique is based on there being "underachievement in all cohorts in Bucks". But the report you cite shows little evidence of 'underachievement' in any cohort in Bucks. That's if, by "under" you mean "lower than the national average".

Bucks schools do better than the England average across a whole range of indicators. But turning to the specific points:

1. Socio-Economic. There is a correlation between poverty and lower academic attainment seen throughout the world; but correlation is not causation. Much (probably most) of the difference disappears if you control for cognitive ability. That is, students from very poor backgrounds with high CATS scores do well. However, the AVERAGE cognitive ability levels in poor areas are likely to be lower than those in affluent areas. There may be a chicken and egg question here: does the experience of poverty depress a child's cognitive ability; or does low cognitive ability among adults lead to low income...leading to.... ...etc.? Part of the explanation will be genetic; a great deal environmental.

2. Selection. Buckinghamshire's experiment has been interesting. In a bid to create a 'tutor proof' test, Bucks moved to a new 11+ more closely aligned to the primary school curriculum. Against expectations, children from independent prep schools did even better proportionally. This shouldn't really have been 'against expectations'. If you shift the emphasis from 'hard work' to 'ability' (from growth mindset to fixed mindset, as it were) then of course children from selective independent schools will do proportionally better.

3. Glad to hear expectations in Bucks are up.

4. Agreed

5. System: maybe if BMEC stopped special pleading based on a non-existent ethnicity-related grievance, the LA might talk. At the moment it looks like BMEC are claiming to be victims where there is no evidence a crime has been committed. Children of Pakistani heritage in Bucks perform as well as children of Pakistani heritage in the rest of England. There is no particular Bucks grievance.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 18:06

Barry - I am pleased at your recognition that cognitive ability, not poverty or ethnicity is the major driver of school improvement. This combined with the fact that poorer areas in socio-economic terms produce lower mean cognitive abilities results in the illusion of there being a 'gap'.

The question is how to break into the circularity of low cognitive ability produces low school attainment, but low school attainment incentivises schools to resort to 'quick fix' behaviourist, results-focussed teaching methods for the lower achievers in order to boost results above the latest pernicious hurdle that avoids the head getting the sack and forced academisation. These survival-panic-driven teaching methods do not develop cognitive ability, so although your school might scrape over the high stakes hurdle the cost is large numbers of pupils that understand little that they have been taught and less still a few months after the exams have been taken. See the cover illustration of 'Learning Matters'.

Unlike many of those on LSN that otherwise usually broadly agree with me I support the extension of EBacc to all pupils because of its cognitively developmental potential. The main problem of EBacc is the single C grade arbiter of good v bad GCSEs. Not valuing attainment at all levels will mean that those pupils closest to sneaking over the C grade hurdle will get disproportionate attention and resources. Best 8 and the new grading system could help. Grade 6 could well be needed for progression to academic A levels with Grade 4, and its associated challenge-driven cognitive development being fine for a wide range of technical/vocational post 16 courses, with all Grades in between representing worthwhile attainment and progress.

So long as aggregated grades are used as performance indicators for schools in a marketised system then the educational performance of the nation's schools taken as a whole will always be sub-optimal for a wide range of reasons and because of ever evolving perverse incentives.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 11:02

I am also always concerned about any thesis in education that begins 'it is Y not X and X' that is the main driver for school improvement' as, in my view, education is too complex and nuanced to point to any one root cause or correlation that leads to low attainment.

For schools to eschew the survival-panic-stricken teaching methods that are 'done to' so-called low achievers requires a thorough understanding of all facets that contribute to low attainment and this includes socio-economics etc. Unfortunately teachers are not generally trained to work with a diverse range of pupils in mainstream classrooms. There is also no research ethos in schools.

What I have found is that the problem is often not with the choice of discipline but with the lack of basic skills pupils bring to classes and also with the narrow and prescriptive way the subjects are generally taught. For example, pupils cannot start on English Literature, or any of the Humanities unless they are taught how to read critically and how to write. Yet a reading culture is absent in many homes and in many schools. The pupils cannot begin to master these skills if they have small vocabularies. Yet words are not a key priority in schools (particularly secondary schools) when, in my view, they should be. I have observed classes across subjects and counted the number of times teachers have talked about word meanings in their disciplines and across disciplines. I'm afraid this is just not a key feature of lessons. Teachers argue that there is no time to focus on words as they are too busy teaching subject content!

And this lack of emphasis on words is one of the key areas inhibiting the cognitive development of, for example, Pakistani -heritage children from low socio-economic backgrounds.

I offer one small anecdote and assure readers of LSN that this is typical not exceptional:

I have just started to work with a nine-year old Pakistani heritage pupil in Year 4. He has a small speech problem. He was described to me as having no ability in anything. He himself has told me that he never does any homework and the school has not even noticed this. We started with a mix of reading, talking and story writing. I won't bore everybody with how I approach these. Suffice it to say that, after five lessons, I have discovered a gifted child with above-average ability in creative writing. His family had no idea and the school seems to have rated the child as SEN, speech problem, low ability. From my experience working with these children, this assessment might well stay with this pupil as he moves on into secondary school in two years time - bottom sets, SEN and the like. Sad but true.

I think then, all of us should acknowledge gaps where they exist. This isn't about being above or below the national average nor is it about patronising children by telling them to choose 'health and social' rather than biology or English Literature.

It is, though, about language discourse; but that is another huge debate.

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