Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children - Education Committee Contents

4  Addressing the problem


79.  The headline accountability measure for schools is currently the proportion of children achieving a benchmark at key stage 2 or key stage 4.[123] We have argued previously that this encourages schools to focus on pupils at the borderline of this threshold—the C/D candidates at GCSE level—rather than seek to improve the performance of all pupils.[124] From late 2016, the "Progress 8" measure will be introduced as the floor standard, "measuring students' progress measured across eight subjects: English; mathematics; three other English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects (sciences, computer science, geography, history and languages); and three further subjects, which can be from the range of EBacc subjects, or can be any other approved, high-value arts, academic, or vocational qualification".[125] We welcome this change, and believe that it will be beneficial to all pupils—including white working class children.

80.  Ofsted told us that "It is now harder for schools to be judged good or outstanding where the achievement of disadvantaged pupils is below that of other pupils".[126] This is also to be welcomed.

"Closing the gap"

The Pupil Premium

81.  The pupil premium is additional funding given to publicly funded schools in England "to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap between them and their peers".[127] Introduced in 2011, the funding is available to both mainstream and non-mainstream schools, such as special schools and pupil referral units. Since 2012 it has been paid to schools according to the number of pupils who have:

·  registered as eligible for free school meals at any point in the last 6 years ('Ever-6 FSM')

·  been in care for 6 months or longer[128]

In the 2013/14 financial year, schools receive £953 for each eligible primary-aged pupil and £900 for each eligible secondary-aged pupil. "Ever-6 FSM" covers 1.83 million pupils.[129] In addition, the Government has recently announced a prize fund of £4m to be awarded to schools that best improve the performance of their disadvantaged pupils.[130]

82.  The question of how well the pupil premium is performing for disadvantaged children was explored by the think tank Demos, which found that in 72 out of 152 local authorities in England the free school meals attainment gap at GCSE level widened in 2012/13, and that in 66 areas the gap was wider than when the pupil premium was introduced.[131] In a letter to the Guardian, Professor Becky Francis, Dr John Dunford and Dr Kevan Collins described a brighter picture at primary level, with the gap closing by 3 percentage points at Key Stage 2 between 2011 and 2012.[132] We asked the Minister for his views on the evidence for the impact of the pupil premium. He told us:

    It is only two years into the pupil premium, so we are talking about the results of young people who have spent most of their time in a school system that has not had this money. We will not really know how successful it has been until two, three, four, or five years down the line.[133]

83.  The Minister also told us that the pupil premium would be the appropriate source of funding for parental engagement activity:

    If schools decide that getting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds properly engaged is a big priority—getting parental engagement, getting children to get in through the school gate each day and attend, and having them motivated in the right way—they ought to think about using their pupil premium for that.[134]

    […] the pupil premium is exactly the kind of thing that could be used by schools, particularly where there is a large disengagement problem—if they think there is evidence this works—to employ somebody who could spend quite a lot of their time engaging with families, sorting out problems, making sure parents are supportive of the school and getting children into school each day and on time. As you know, many of the best schools do this already.[135]

84.  Nevertheless, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission suggests that "nearly two-thirds of students not getting English and maths GCSE at grades A*-C are ineligible for the pupil premium […] Schools should have some flexibility to use the pupil premium for disadvantaged students and for low attainers".[136]

85.  We welcome the introduction of the pupil premium and the recent announcement of its extension to early years. The Government should continue to monitor the impact of this policy.

86.  Ofsted produced a report in February 2013 on the way in which the pupil premium was being used by schools, based on visits to 68 primary and secondary schools.[137]

87.  We welcome Ofsted's 2013 report on the use of the pupil premium and recommend that a similar report be produced annually to highlight how effective schools are in using this money, focusing on the impact and highlighting case studies of schools where the greatest progress is being achieved.


88.  The Minister emphasised that in excess of £6 billion was being spent on deprivation funding in schools, only £2.5 billion of which was the pupil premium. The other funding, distributed by local authorities, was based on IDACI measures of deprivation and low prior attainment, and thus included children who were not eligible for free school meals or the pupil premium but were still underachieving.[138] The Minister argued that the apparent cliff-edge of eligibility for the pupil premium was softened by the use of these measures,[139] but he was willing to consider whether other methods should be used to target money in the future:

    It would be a brave Minister who would say that they could be confident that it would be perfect. So one of the challenges as we go into the next Parliament [...] should be to look at the way we are funding disadvantage.[140]

89.  We were particularly interested to learn during our visit to the Netherlands, as part of our Sure Start inquiry, that the level of parental qualifications was used as a means of targeting additional funding for disadvantaged pupils. The Minister told us that he was "perfectly open and perfectly interested in commissioning work on whether there are other characteristics of pupils [that should be used to target disadvantage funding] […] We have, so far, distributed money in the most rational way open to us based on the evidence. It would be useful to go on looking at that evidence and trying to improve the system".[141]

90.  We welcome the Minister's willingness to investigate whether other measures of disadvantage may be more appropriate for allocating disadvantage funding and tracking the performance of disadvantaged groups. The Government should move quickly to do this.


91.  Joint written evidence from the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) highlighted the 'EEF toolkit'[142] as a way of schools assessing the effectiveness of interventions. The toolkit is a synthesis of over 8,000 research studies which identifies high-impact techniques such as improving the quality of feedback to pupils and the use of collaborative learning to raise attainment.[143] The Toolkit currently covers 33 topics, each summarised in terms of their average impact on attainment, the strength of the evidence supporting them and their cost. According to the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), 36% of school leaders say that their school uses the toolkit to help decide how to use pupil premium funding, with 67% using either the toolkit or some other kind of research evidence.[144]

92.  We see the EEF Toolkit as a positive development which will help schools to make informed decisions about how to make best use of pupil premium funding. This will be particularly important to support the roll-out of the pupil premium to early years settings.

Tackling regional variation

A national strategy versus area-based responses

93.  Despite the existence in the past of a range of targeted strategies for tackling ethnic minority underachievement, relatively few of our witnesses called for a specific national strategy for addressing white working class underachievement. The Minister argued that:

    Circumstances differ markedly from place to place, and depend upon the social mix at the particular school or college. The situation for a white working class pupil in a school with predominantly middle class pupils presents different challenges from that of working class pupils [...] It is important that schools are able to decide at their local level what approaches to take, tailoring them to their particular environment and priorities.[145]

Teach First supported this view: "[...] White working class children are not a homogenous group. The challenges they face vary greatly and are often driven by geographical and economic factors, rather than ethnicity".[146] Buckinghamshire County Council suggested that "The impact of relative deprivation by comparison with the community you live with is distinct from being a member of a community where a larger number are from a similar social and economic context".[147] The Minister told us that he was "[…] not particularly in favour of devising all sorts of different strategies for different ethnic groups", but that

    […] we do need to learn the lessons of why it is that these ethnic groups, both in and outside London, appear to have better levels of attainment for the same level of deprivation, because that might help us to understand what we need to do for white children to improve their attainment beyond the things that we know work for all children.[148]


94.  The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission noted that the performance of poor white pupils in London was much better than in other parts of the country, and that "London is proving that deprivation need not be destiny":[149]

    Children are far more likely to do well in London schools than elsewhere in England. That is particularly the case for the most disadvantaged pupils [...] Although some commentators have suggested that London's performance is driven by the high attainment of particular ethnic groups concentrated in the capital, the effect is still observed when looking at the attainment of white pupils alone.[150]

95.  Some witnesses attributed the recent improvement in the performance of children in London to the "London Challenge". This programme was established in 2003 to tackle underperformance in London secondary schools. Primary schools were included in 2008. Ofsted reported on the scheme in 2010, noting that secondary schools in London had improved at a faster rate than the rest of the country in terms of examination results.[151] The model was extended in 2008 to The City Challenge, which included programmes in Manchester and the Black Country.[152] The more generalised 'National Challenge' programme was also introduced by the then Government in 2008 to all English secondary schools whose standards were below the floor target.[153]

96.  Ofsted noted that the eight-year time span for the London Challenge was important: "It had sufficient time to make a real impact. It is crucial that any future area-based strategies are not seen as quick fix solutions to complex problems. Along with high levels of accountability, such approaches must be given time to implement change and bring about sustainable improvements".[154] Total funding for the City Challenge was approximately £160m: £28m for the Black Country, £50m for Manchester and £80m for London.[155] Professor Gorard emphasised the importance of suitable funding for any such approach: "The London Challenge was set up in an era of relative economic prosperity and was reasonably well-funded. In addition to any activities or changes, schools got extra money. It is not reasonable to expect other and poorer parts of England, such as the North East, to achieve the same without the same funding".[156]

97.  Ofsted noted in Unseen Children that "area-based initiatives are often successful in stimulating local activity and are viewed positively by teachers and parents. However, it is less clear whether they offer good value for money or are accessed fully by the most disadvantaged pupils".[157] The report notes that the London Challenge is a notable exception to this.

98.  We heard some evidence which was more sceptical about whether the improvements in London's performance should be attributed to the London Challenge. Professor Gorard told us that the London Challenge was "one possible explanation", but that

    The relative growth of the level 2 indicator (5+ GCSEs including English and maths) in London does not really take off until 2007 and later […] This is confounded with a change in the way this indicator was measured from 2005 onwards, the addition of English and maths to the official metric, and the economic downturn which could have influenced many other factors including who did or did not attend fee-paying schools […]The Challenge took place, unavoidably, in an era of many other interventions for London (including an overlap with preparation for the 2012 Olympics) […][158]

99.  The improvements in London's educational performance suggest that the problem of white working class underachievement in education can be tackled. In determining future policy in this area the Government must carefully assess what positive impact the London Challenge may have had and what its key features were.


100.  Sir Michael Wilshaw has recommended the development of sub-regional "challenges", aimed at raising the achievement of disadvantaged pupils,[159] and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has also recommended this approach.[160] Ofsted explains that "The potential strength of such an approach would lie in the fact that it would allow different areas to set up coherent and well-focused strategies for improvement that take into account the specific needs of a particular locality".[161] We asked the Minister for his views:

    Our attitude to sub-regional challenges is this: we are very supportive of them as a way of getting schools to work together and challenging underperformance. We are very pleased to see that a lot of regions and metropolitan areas are establishing these themselves. However, both the Secretary of State and I are nervous about centrally determined, top-down initiatives that would single out five, 10 or 15 areas of the country and say, "These are the ones that merit this type of investment and other areas do not". […] You run the risk of having borders that do not make any sense in reality. […] We need to learn the lessons of things like London Challenge and some of the other sub-regional challenges, and then we need to build those into a national system.[162]

101.  We agree with the Minister that sub-regional challenges risk prioritising one area over another, but would reiterate the importance of school collaboration and cooperation, and the need to encourage this on a local basis.


102.  Sir Michael Wilshaw has drawn attention to the fact that the distribution of underachievement has shifted away from big cities and is now most concentrated in "deprived coastal towns and rural, less populous regions of the country".[163] This makes it all the more important that the school funding formula distributes money fairly according to need, and it is disappointing that the Government has not fulfilled its promise of introducing a new national funding formula. The allocation of an additional £350m in 2015 to 2016 for the least fairly funded areas provides a welcome downpayment, but the problem has not been fully addressed.[164] We recognise the political difficulties of redistribution, but the case for reform is overwhelming and the Government must act further. In the words of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss MP), the Government must "ensure that a future national funding formula properly reflects the costs, such as attracting and retaining high-quality staff in rural areas".[165]

103.  Given the changing distribution of educational underachievement across the country, the Government must develop a new funding formula for schools which better matches allocation with need.

Best practice in schools

Ofsted's 2008 good practice report-white boys from low income backgrounds

104.  While Ofsted noted that there was a limit to the effect that schools alone can have, its 2008 thematic report identified the following examples of good practice in tackling the underachievement of white boys from low income backgrounds, based on a survey of 20 schools in England:[166]

·  Support to develop boys' organisation skills and instill the importance of perseverance; any anti-school subculture 'left at the gates'

·  Rigorous monitoring systems that track individual pupils' performance against expectations; realistic but challenging targets; tailored flexible intervention programmes and frequent review of performance against targets

·  A curriculum that is tightly structured around individual needs and linked to support programmes that seek to raise aspirations

·  Creative and flexible strategies to engage parents and carers, make them feel valued, enable them to give greater support to their boys' education and help them make informed decisions about the future

·  Strong partnership with a wide range of agencies to provide social, emotional, educational and practical support for boys and their families in order to raise their aspirations.

105.  We welcome Ofsted's recent focus on the issue of economically deprived white children underachieving in education, and its 2008 report on good practice in this area. We recommend that this continues to be a focus for Ofsted, and that an updated good practice report is produced.


106.  Data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in Education[167] (LSYPE) includes information on the number of evenings per week young people spend completing homework. Analysis by Professor Steve Strand shows that white British students from low SES homes made the least progress over the course of secondary school, and that the most significant factors in explaining this were the frequency with which young people completed homework, their "academic self-concept" (how good they felt they were at school work), their attendance at school (see paragraph 67), and their educational aspirations (whether they aspired to continue in full-time education after age 16).[168] White British low SES students scored lowest on each of these counts: number of evenings spent doing homework, academic self-concept, and educational aspirations:Table 9: Mean number of evenings per week spent doing homework, by ethnicity, children classified as NS-SEC 6-8 (i.e. "working class")
Ethnic Group Mean number of evenings per week % 3 or more evenings per week
White British 2.5449.3%
Mixed Heritage 2.6052.8%
Black Caribbean 2.7964.6%
Bangladeshi 3.0265.8%
Pakistani 3.1368.5%
Black African 3.1366.8%
Any other group 3.1867.1%
Indian 3.2970.4%
Average 52.8%

Source: Strand, S., "Ethnicity, gender, social class and achievement gaps at age 16: intersectionality and 'getting it' for the white working class", Research Papers in Education, Vol 29 Issue 2, 2014Figure 7: Mean number of evenings per week spent doing homework, by ethnicity, children classified as NS-SEC 6-8 ("working class")

Source: Strand, S., "Ethnicity, gender, social class and achievement gaps at age 16: intersectionality and 'getting it' for the white working class", Research Papers in Education, Vol 29 Issue 2, 2014

107.  The Association of Colleges noted that poorer students often had nowhere to work at home,[169] and Professor Denis Mongon argued that this was a better explanation than a lack of willingness to work:

    […] the evidence shows us that it is much harder for those youngsters we are talking about to do their homework […] in a room where nobody was eating, watching television or doing anything except their homework […] I do not think there is any intuitive natural disposition to not do the work.[170]

Owen Jones added that "If you have parents who themselves are professional middle class university-educated people, then they are in a far better position to be able to help with homework".[171]

108.  One possible response to this is providing time at the end of the school day for children to complete homework. The EEF Toolkit cites research evidence from the USA which suggests that increasing the length of the school day can add two months' additional progress to pupils' attainment over the course of a year, with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds benefitting by an additional half a months' progress relative to their peers.[172]

109.  The current trend towards longer school days presents an opportunity for schools to provide space and time for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to complete homework, which may particularly benefit white working class children. We recommend that Ofsted publish a best practice report on this subject to provide guidance for schools.


110.  Witnesses emphasised that one in seven schools manage to buck the national trend for performance of FSM children.[173] The question therefore is how to spread this good practice. Alex Burghart from the Centre for Social Justice told us that the successful schools "have clearly developed interesting means of working with their pupils and their parents. At the moment, I do not think that we have the mechanisms available to help share the learning that those schools have already developed with other schools that would benefit from it. We should probably start with what is already succeeding in the system".[174] Dr Chris Wood (Her Majesty's Inspector, Ofsted) agreed:

    It is really important that there are more opportunities for schools to share their good practice. In recent fieldwork that we did looking at successful strategies, a common theme amongst those very successful schools was they had had very limited opportunity to work with other schools to disseminate the things that they were doing so well […]. There are insufficient incentives for co-operation and taking the broader view of responsibility for the achievement of those children.[175]

111.  In our 2013 report on School Cooperation and Partnerships we supported Sir Michael Wilshaw's proposal that an 'Exceptional' rating for headteachers should be introduced to incentivise school collaboration. The Government rejected this recommendation, stating that:

    We are keen to avoid creating a proliferation of system leadership statuses. We will continue to explore whether there is more that the Government can do to recognise excellent leadership for those who provide system leadership support for under-performing schools in disadvantaged communities.[176]

The Minister explained:

    […] there is a growing expectation that good practice will be shared. What some people have suggested is that there should be a higher grade given to acknowledge system leadership, but that raises lots of issues, not only about how you would assess the quality of system leadership, but about whether it would be useful for parents to tell them about the job that their school is doing in somebody else's school […] We ought to look, and we are going to look as a Department, at whether there are other ways in which we can, in a high-profile way, acknowledge the good work being done by those schools that are willing not only to concentrate on their own pupils, but to try to improve the system as a whole.[177]

112.  Good leadership and school cooperation are critical to school improvement. We warmly welcome the Minister's commitment to encouraging system leadership and look forward to examining the Government's proposals in due course.

Deployment of teachers

The Talented Leaders Programme and National Service

113.  Ofsted's Unseen Children report highlights a significant regional variation in the supply of good secondary school leadership in deprived areas:

    In the North East, leadership and management is good or outstanding in just over a third of the most deprived secondary schools compared with over four fifths in London. Moreover, leadership and management are outstanding in nearly two fifths (38%) of London's 245 most deprived secondary schools compared with only one of the North East's 28 most deprived secondary schools.[178]

114.  A 2008 report for the National College of School Leadership on improving the achievement of white working class children concluded that "more of the best school leaders will need to be encouraged to work in challenging contexts".[179] Written evidence from the Future Leaders Trust supported this view, arguing that "more passionate and outstanding school leaders should be placed in posts where their efforts can have the most impact".[180] The Trust places its leaders in areas with high numbers of white working class students such as Grimsby and the Isle of Wight, and is focusing on expanding further into coastal and rural towns.[181]

115.  At the North of England conference in January 2014, the Minister said that "We need a better distribution of high-quality teachers and leaders, and support systems across the country. If not, we risk solidifying social divisions, rather than breaking them down".[182] In that speech he announced a tender exercise to identify the "delivery partner" for the Talented Leaders Programme, which would allow schools in challenging areas to "request a high-performing school leader from a pool of some of our brightest talents". The programme is expected to be launched formally later in 2014, but it has been announced that within its first two years it will match 100 high-quality school leaders to schools which need to improve. The Minister argued that:

    This is not about parachuting in 'hero heads'. The objective will be to ensure sustainable school improvement. We expect these headteachers to work with school staff to strengthen succession planning within their schools and to support the development of a long-term strategy to improve standards.[183]

116.  The Government's response to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission's first annual report noted that Teach First will be training 1,500 graduates in 2014 to 2015 and placing them in the most challenging schools, and that as of 2014/15 Teach First will be placing teachers in every region of England.[184]

117.  Dr Kevan Collins (Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation) noted that "we do not necessarily have incentives to encourage our very best teachers or our best teaching to be supporting the children who are hardest to teach or have the most to learn".[185] We asked the Minister whether he agreed that there were insufficient incentives to tackle this problem, or whether a form of "national service" for teachers was appropriate, as is the case in Shanghai. He told us that:

    We need to be realistic; there are many people who have strong reasons for staying in their home area, such as strong family ties or children at local schools who are not necessarily going to move.[186]

    […] we need to make it easy—in a system that does have a lot of passionate, ambitious people who want to do the right thing for young people and help those young people who most need help—for people to get to those schools where they can really make a difference.[187]

118.  We explored the specific issue of whether headteachers were placed at significant personal risk to their careers if they take on a failing school, given that they might subsequently be asked to leave if performance did not improve quickly. Ofsted told us that it would not be possible for headteachers to be given a "grace period" unless that was something that was built into the statutory framework.[188] Dr Chris Wood added that:

    […] at Ofsted we have plenty of examples of excellent heads who have gone into schools that were failing and have turned them around. I would argue that the inspection system has within it sufficient flexibility to recognise that. […] We want to see greater incentives for the very best leaders to move to those schools.[189]

119.  In considering this issue we note that "good teaching" can be contextual: while a "good" teacher may perform particularly well in one school environment, it is not obvious that transplanting teachers from one area to another will be effective in itself. Nevertheless, we believe that quality within the system should be encouraged to move towards the areas that need it the most, and that challenging schools need to be able to attract the very best applicants.

120.  It is essential that the best teachers and leaders work in the areas that need them the most. The Government should publish an analysis of the incentives that influence where teachers choose to work, and use this to design a system that ensures that the most challenging schools can attract the best teachers and leaders.


121.  Unseen Children notes that there is a lack of data on where the best teachers are based:

    Until recently, the Teaching Agency collected information about where newly qualified teachers worked through information provided by the now defunct General Teaching Council [for England]. Currently, it does not collect this information, nor does it collect data on where the 'best' teachers go. This is a weakness in the system.[190]

The Minister told us that the DfE had a project underway that would link teacher data from the school workforce census across years and to other datasets, including on initial teacher training, which would "[...] enable analysis of teacher mobility including movers between posts/grade/schools/location and those leaving the profession".[191]

122.  We welcome the Government's plans to enable the analysis of data on teacher mobility, and where newly qualified teachers choose to work; this will allow for better monitoring of the effects of incentives in the system.

Parental engagement

Evidence for the use of this approach

123.  Jenny North told us that improving parental involvement and parental behaviour was a "promising" area of intervention, but was cautious about the evidence base for it:

    When I say "promising", I am being quite specific here. There is not a massive, undisputed body of evidence showing a clear causal link for changing behaviours then changing attainment, but there is far more for that than there is for raising aspirations or changing attitudes towards schooling.[192]

A NIACE report on Family Learning argued that engaging the most disadvantaged parents in their children's education, while simultaneously offering them the chance to learn themselves, can improve pupils' attainment by 15 percentage points and improve a child's reading age by six months.[193] Evidence summarised in the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit (see below) notes that "higher parental engagement is related with better attainment outcomes, but increasing low parental engagement is challenging".[194]

124.  Ofsted produced a short report on Family Learning in 2009 based on themed inspections of 23 local authority providers of family learning and observations of 36 family learning classes on the premises of schools, at Sure Start children's centres and in a library.[195] Ofsted concluded that "Family learning programmes had a considerable impact on the achievements of both children and adults," with the needs of priority groups generally met through well-targeted provision, but "very little provision was available beyond primary education".[196]

125.  In 2011 the Department for Education published a review of best practice in parental engagement which encompassed school-home links, support and training for parents, and collaboration with the community.[197] The review stated that "the evidence of the impact of family literacy, language and numeracy programmes on children's academic and learning related outcomes is extensive and robust[...][Literacy and numeracy programmes] can have a positive impact on the most disadvantaged families, including the academic outcomes of the children".[198] Specifically, the Department's review noted that programmes in which parents were trained to listen to their children read produced an effect size of 0.51 (about 4 months of progress), with the largest impacts produced when parents themselves taught specific reading skills to their children, with an effect size of 1.15 (over a year's progress, and over six times more effective than simply encouraging parents to read to their children).[199]

126.  The DfE found, however, that there was "little robust evidence on many academic and learning related outcomes, and on many of the specific activities schools and services should undertake in pursuit of the general features of an effective parental engagement strategy".[200] Written evidence from Professor Stephen Gorard explained that while there is a strong association between parental engagement and educational performance, this does not necessarily mean that actions to increase engagement will have the desired result.[201] He explained that:

    [...] robust evaluations of interventions to increase parental involvement and assess the impact of this on children's attainment are far fewer than the studies of association, and also far fewer than studies that have simply shown that parental involvement can be increased (but without testing whether this makes a difference to attainment).[202]

A report for the Nuffield Foundation based on a meta-analysis of studies of parental involvement criticised the quality of evidence for the benefits of enhancing parental engagement.[203] Professor Gorard described a "mixed and far from encouraging picture" of the benefits of this intervention: "[Some studies] have suggested positive outcomes, some no effect, and some that parental involvement interventions may actually harm children's attainment".[204] Professor Gorard concluded that "interventions are most likely to succeed when they are aimed at young children and involve parents and staff meeting regularly in an institution". However:

    There is very little evidence of promise from evaluations of parental interventions for children of later primary age, secondary age or across phases of schooling. Practical interventions here can be safely abandoned for the present [...] Merely increasing parental involvement is not the answer in itself.[205]

127.  The EEF is funding a number of programmes to improve parental engagement, including the Plymouth Parent Partnership, which provides parents with the skills they need to help their child learn to read.[206] Meanwhile, the EEF Toolkit lists parental involvement as being "moderate impact for moderate cost, based on moderate evidence [...] Although parental involvement is consistently associated with pupils' success at school, the evidence about how to increase involvement to improve attainment is much less conclusive. This is particularly the case for disadvantaged families".[207] The Minister told us that:

    We have made assessments of the existing evidence base and that does show that parental engagement, if done in the right way, can have a very positive impact on attainment. What is encouraging and far better than us doing the work is that the EEF is commissioning a lot of evidence-based studies of parental engagement. In some of the first work that it has been commissioning, it has been focusing on this as a theme. That means that, once that is complete, we will have a lot more serious evidence about what type of engagement with parents works, and how it works compared with other educational interventions.[208]

128.  In the context of early years education, we recommended in our 2013 Sure Start children's centres report that "research is needed into what kind of engagement with parents in their children's learning in the family home makes the difference in narrowing the gap between the most disadvantaged children and their better-off peers".[209] This is particularly the case now that the pupil premium is to be extended to the early years.[210] The Government's response to this recommendation did not refer to the issue of parental engagement,[211] and we therefore reiterate the need to investigate this.

129.  We recommend once again that the Government commission research into what kind of engagement with parents in their children's learning makes the difference in narrowing the gap between the most economically disadvantaged children and their better-off peers, and in particular, identify from specific schools and local authorities examples of best practice that could be shared more widely.

Early Years

130.  In our report on children's centres, we noted the "critical importance of early years for future life chances makes this a fundamental test of the Government's seriousness in closing the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged children and their peers".[212] The evidence referred to in paragraph 24 of this report showing the 25 percentage point gap for white British children by the age of 5 underlines the relevance of our previous findings to this group of children. We endorse the new integrated check for 2½ year olds which should enable professionals to identify those children needing additional help and we welcome the expansion of early education for these age groups which should address this need.

131.  As with primary and secondary schools, there is an urgent need to ensure that the best teachers and leaders are engaged with the most disadvantaged children. We support the Government's aim of raising the quality of the early years workforce but we remain concerned at the lack of a strategy towards realising the vision of equality between early years teachers and those in schools.

Vocational education

The impact of the Wolf reforms on white working class boys

132.  FSM pupils are more likely to study vocational programmes, including those deemed to be 'Wolf-approved' (i.e. counted towards the achievement of the 5 A*-C threshold measure from 2014, as a result of the recommendations in the Wolf report.).[213] In 2012, 56% of white FSM pupils entered one or more Wolf-approved equivalent qualification, compared to 47% of all other pupils (although this pattern is the same for non-white FSM pupils).[214] The Department concluded that "The [Wolf] reforms [are expected to] have a larger impact on white FSM pupils […] almost 5% of white FSM pupils rely on non-Wolf qualifications to achieve the expected level, whereas 3% of all other pupils and just over 4% of all other FSM eligible pupils [do] [...]". The DfE also noted that the reforms will also impact more on white FSM boys than white FSM girls.[215]Table 10: Modelled impact of Wolf recommendations on key stage 4 outcomes, 2012
DfE modeling White FSM All other pupils Total
Number of eligible pupils 54,753511,937 566,690
Number achieving 5+ A*-C inc E&M 16,948313,340 330,288
% achieving 5+ A*-C inc E&M 31.0%61.2% 58.3%
Number achieving 5+ A*-C inc E&M (Wolf) 14,298296,388 310,686
% 5+ A*-C inc E&M (Wolf) 26.1%57.9% 54.8%
Difference -2,650-16,952 -19,602
% Difference -4.8%-3.3% -3.5%

Source: Department for Education (WWC 28) para 55

133.  We asked Professor Alison Wolf to comment on this:

    When they say it will impact on them, what they are actually saying is that this was the group that was most likely to do the sorts of qualifications that we feel were not worth doing. The answer is hopefully it is going to make it much better for them, because there will not be that opportunity, or there will not be such strong perverse incentives, to put people in for qualifications that employers do not, in practice, value.[216]

We consider that vocational education is an important subject that deserves future scrutiny. In particular, a careful balance needs to be struck between ensuring that young people are given access to an academic education while avoiding portraying vocational routes as a second-class option.


134.  We noted in our 2013 report on Careers Guidance for Young People that the statutory duty for schools to provide work-related learning had been removed in August 2012,[217] and the NUT raised this again in relation to this inquiry: "Such contexts could help young people learn about and for work through the school curriculum, and could assist in particular those young people who come from homes where there is no wage earner or who come from backgrounds where they lack the social networks to learn about work or to be exposed to employment or work experience opportunities".[218] We note that new guidance for schools has been published recently and we look forward to exploring how well this meets the need for guidance on work-related learning.[219]

135.  We are encouraged that the Sutton Trust has commissioned work to investigate the quantitative evidence for the effect of careers education and guidance, including analysis by social class, and we look forward to receiving the results in due course.[220]

136.  The consequence of low educational attainment is too often "NEET" status—not in education, employment or training. A report for the Employers Federation found that positive relationships exist between the number of employer contacts (such as careers talks or work experience) that a young person experiences in school (between the ages of 14 and 19) and their confidence (at 19-24) in progression towards ultimate career goals and the likelihood of whether (at 19-24) they are NEET or non-NEET.[221]

Aligning social and education policies

137.  As the Sutton Trust observed, "This problem will not be solved solely through the education system".[222] Given the breadth of issues explored in Chapter 3, it is also relevant to consider how other social policies interact with schools. ASCL told us that:

    Addressing white working class underachievement by setting new targets to schools and colleges, or altering the range and governance of such institutions, or interfering with the curriculum or the qualification system, is to try to treat the symptom rather than the disease. There is a need to address more fundamental issues of inequality, and to intervene at an earlier stage in a child's development to encourage and support parents to value their children's education.[223]

138.  Similarly, a background report for Ofsted on the educational attainment of white British students from low income backgrounds as part of its Access and achievement in education 2013 review notes that "Systemic solutions will require more than excellence in the application of basic good practice by individual schools, it will require the aligned effort of a range of services and institutions". The paper goes on to explain that "Evidence [...] points directly to the mutual and accumulative benefits which services can bring to one another when improved health, housing, parenting, home learning and schooling operate in a virtuous circle".[224]

139.  The National Children's Bureau and Council for Disabled Children propose that the Government should create a Children and Young People's Board, "with full ministerial representation to develop and implement a genuinely cross-government multidimensional strategy to reduce the inequality and disadvantage children and young people face".[225] NASUWT's written evidence to the inquiry observed that:

    A central component of the Every Child Matters agenda involved improving inter-agency working and collaboration across children's services. The implementation of ECM highlighted the difficulties involved in developing effective collaboration and inter-agency working [...] there were significant challenges in developing effective communication channels and difference in organisational cultures and terminology needed to be overcome [...] The NASUWT believes that this highlights the importance of a nationally coordinated, strategic approach to ensuring effective collaboration and inter-agency working.[226]

140.  The Minister provided an example of current cross-department working in the form of the new child poverty strategy, which encompasses social policies such as housing and healthcare, with links to educational attainment. He told us that "we work closely with other Departments in Whitehall that impact on children's lives".[227] Nevertheless, the Minister told us that he was keen to concentrate primarily on school-based interventions:

    Changing some of those things outside the school gate can be much more challenging than trying to get those interventions right in schools themselves [...] I am more optimistic about making rapid progress in raising attainment for disadvantaged youngsters by really focusing on what goes on in schools and that schools can easily impact upon, rather than trying to change the whole of society, which is a rather big ambition—important, but not easy to do in the short term.[228]

    I suspect that for every pound spent, an intervention within a school with good leadership, using the right interventions, is more likely to be of use than very generic social interventions [...] the more diffuse the interventions are, and the more generic about trying to tackle wider economic disadvantage in society, the more risk there is that we will not focus on the things that make the most impact to young people.[229]

141.  We agree that there is much that schools can do to address white working class underachievement. Broader societal factors also have an enormous role to play, but this should not deflect attention from the central importance of improving school and teaching quality.

123   Department for Education, Progress 8 factsheet Back

124   Education Committee, First Report of Session 2012-13, The administration of examinations for 15-19 year olds in England, HC 141, para 192 Back

125   Department for Education, Progress 8 factsheet Back

126   Ofsted (WWC 23) p 1 Back

127   Department for Education, "Pupil Premium: information for schools", 22 January 2014 (accessed on 12 February 2014) Back

128   Department for Education, "Pupil Premium: information for schools", 22 January 2014 (accessed on 12 February 2014) Back

129   Q332 Back

130   "Schools best at helping disadvantaged pupils to share £4 million prize fund", Department for Education, 1 May 2014 Back

131   "A tale of two classrooms: London results skew national picture as educational inequality on the rise", Demos, January 2014 Back

132   "Positive signs on the Pupil Premium effect", The Guardian, 3 February 2014 Back

133   Q329 Back

134   Q365 Back

135   Q327 Back

136   Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, State of the Nation 2013: social mobility and child poverty in Great Britain, October 2013, p22 Back

137   Ofsted, The Pupil Premium: How schools are spending the funding successfully to maximise achievement, February 2013 Back

138   Q316 Back

139   Q317 Back

140   Q317 Back

141   Q333 Back

142   http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/  Back

143   Sutton Trust-EEF (WWC 11) para 13 Back

144   Sutton Trust-EEF (WWC 11) para 13 Back

145   Association of School and College Leaders (WWC 5) para 15 Back

146   Teach First (WWC 10) para 7 Back

147   Buckinghamshire County Council (WWC 18) para 2.5i Back

148   Q313 Back

149   Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, State of the Nation 2013: social mobility and child poverty in Great Britain, October 2013, p176 Back

150   Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, State of the Nation 2013: social mobility and child poverty in Great Britain, October 2013, pp175-176 Back

151   Ofsted, "The London Challenge", accessed 20 February 2014  Back

152   Department for Education, Evaluation of the City Challenge Programme, 2012 Back

153   The National Archives, Department for Education and Skills website snapshot 1 January 2007, "The London Challenge" Back

154   Ofsted (WWC 37) p 3 Back

155   Department for Education, Evaluation of the City Challenge Programme (June 2012) DFE-RR215 Back

156   Professor Stephen Gorard (WWC 35) p 3 Back

157   Ofsted, Unseen children: access and achievement 20 years on (June 2013), p62 Back

158   Professor Stephen Gorard (WWC 35) p 3 Back

159   Ofsted, "Unseen Children: HMCI speech 20 June 2013", 20 June 2013 (accessed 28 November 2013) Back

160   Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, State of the Nation 2013: social mobility and child poverty in Great Britain, (October 2013) chap 6, para 59 Back

161   Ofsted (WWC 37) p 3 Back

162   Q383 Back

163   "Press release: Ofsted: Too many of England's poorest children continue to be let down by the education system", Ofsted (20 June 2013) Back

164   "Fairer schools funding 2015 to 2016", Department for Education (accessed 1 May 2014) Back

165   HC Deb, 29 April 2014, col 199WH Back

166   Ofsted, White boys from low income backgrounds: good practice in schools (July 2008) Back

167   See Chapter 2. Back

168   Strand, S., "Ethnicity, gender, social class and achievement gaps at age 16: intersectionality and 'getting it' for the white working class", Research Papers in Education, Vol 29 Issue 2, 2014 Back

169   Association of Colleges (WWC 24) para 13 Back

170   Q273 Back

171   Q274 Back

172   "Extended school time", Education Endowment Foundation (accessed 30 April 2014) Back

173   Q88 [Dr Collins] Back

174   Q254 Back

175   Qq88-89 Back

176   Education Committee, Fourth Special Report of Session 2013-14, School Partnerships and Cooperation: Government response to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2013-14, HC 999, para 11 Back

177   Q345 Back

178   Ofsted, Unseen children: access and achievement 20 years on (June 2013), p70 Back

179   NCSL, Successful leadership for promoting the achievement of White working class pupils (November 2008), p4 Back

180   Future Leaders Trust (WWC 21) para 11 Back

181   Future Leaders Trust (WWC 21) para 10 Back

182   Gov.uk, "David Laws speech to the North of England Education Conference", 16 January 2014 Back

183   Gov.uk, "David Laws speech to the North of England Education Conference", 16 January 2014 Back

184   HM Government, Government's response to the annual report of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, (March 2014), p 20 Back

185   Q111 Back

186   Q347 Back

187   Q347 Back

188   Q115 Back

189   Q116 Back

190   Ofsted, Unseen children: access and achievement 20 years on (June 2013), p80 Back

191   Department for Education (WWC 39) pp 3-4 Back

192   Q58 Back

193   NIACE, Family Learning Works: The Inquiry into Family Learning in England and Wales (October 2013) Back

194   Sutton Trust-EEF (WWC 11) para 21 Back

195   Ofsted, Family Learning (2009) Back

196   Ofsted, Family Learning (2009) pp 5-6 Back

197   Department for Education, Review of best practice in parental engagement (September 2011), DFE-RR156 Back

198   Department for Education, Review of best practice in parental engagement (September 2011), DFE-RR156 pp 7-8 Back

199   Department for Education, Review of best practice in parental engagement (September 2011), DFE-RR156 p 67 Back

200   Department for Education, Review of best practice in parental engagement (September 2011), DFE-RR156 p 9 Back

201   Professor Stephen Gorard (WWC 20) para 2.2 Back

202   Professor Stephen Gorard (WWC 20) para 2.2 Back

203   See, BH and Gorard, S. What do rigorous evaluations tell us about the most promising parental involvement interventions? A critical review of what works for disadvantaged children in different age groups, Nuffield Foundation (2013) Back

204   Professor Stephen Gorard (WWC 20) para 4.3 Back

205   Professor Stephen Gorard (WWC 20) para 5.11 Back

206   Sutton Trust-EEF (WWC 11) Back

207   "Parental involvement", EEF Toolkit (accessed 10 January 2014) Back

208   Q364 Back

209   Education Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2013-14, Foundation Years: Sure Start children's centres, HC 364-I, para 78 Back

210   HM Treasury, Budget 2014, March 2014, para 1.184 Back

211   Education Committee, Fifth Special Report of Session 2013-14, Foundation Years: Sure Start children's centres: Government response, HC 1141, para 17 Back

212   Education Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2013-14, Foundation Years: Sure Start children's centres, HC 364-I, para 157 Back

213   Department for Education (WWC 28) para 55ff Back

214   Department for Education (WWC 28) para 59 Back

215   Department for Education (WWC 28) para 56 Back

216   Q201 Back

217   Education Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2012-13, Careers guidance for young people: The impact of the new duty on schools, HC 632, para 106 Back

218   National Union of Teachers (WWC 27) para 6 Back

219   Department for Education, Careers guidance and inspiration in schools: statutory guidance for governing bodies, school leaders and school staff (April 2014) Back

220   Q187 Back

221   Education and Employers Taskforce, It's who you meet: why employer contacts at school make a difference to the employment prospects of young adults, February 2012, p 1 Back

222   Sutton Trust-EEF (WWC 11) para 7 Back

223   Association of School and College Leaders (WWC 5) para 19 Back

224   Mongon, D., Educational attainment: White British students from low income backgrounds - Research paper for Ofsted's 'Access and achievement in education 2013 review', Ofsted (June 2013), pp 4, 37 Back

225   National Children's Bureau and Council for Disabled Children (WWC 22) para 3 Back

226   NASUWT (WWC 26) para 25 Back

227   Department for Education (WWC 39) p 6 Back

228   Q309 Back

229   Q310 Back

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Prepared 18 June 2014