At the London Academy of Excellence yesterday, Michael Gove outlined a bold vision for the future of education: no appreciable difference between state and private education. A world where children’s educational prospects are not determined by the wealth of their parents. Gove believes the answer is introducing lies in more testing, tougher discipline and longer school days. Is he right?
According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’, the greatest leaps in reading ability between state and private pupils actually start to show during the holidays. Amazingly, one particular study he cites shows that it is in the long summer break, not the term time, that privately-educated pupils appeared to jump furthest ahead.
Gladwell presents studies that show a disparity in mindset between children from different socio-economic backgrounds, and makes the point that it isn’t as simple as the quality of their education. Tackling this disparity is something that Gove should be investigating as no amount of testing, discipline and hours will fully achieve his vision without embracing crucial components required for educational success: support, mentoring and inspiration.
As students progress through school, parents find themselves with varying amounts of time to support children outside of school lessons. Students from private schools often find themselves with a slight advantage: if their parents don’t have time or the expertise to help them, they can often afford to hire a private tutor to help.
There are a variety of initiatives which are currently trying to tackle the attainment gap in education. The Access Project being one where, in its first cohort, they offered an intensive programme of after school clubs for motivated students (including debate workshops, career-related societies and one-to-one tutorials) which resulted in all seventeen participants gaining a place at university. Into University similarly supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to attain a university place or a place in their chosen aspiration by providing after school tutoring at local centres, offering academic support and career guidance. Teach First (now the biggest recruiter from Oxbridge in the UK) places bright graduates into teacher training roles in inner city schools. Other programmes include ones organised by the charity, SHINE which aims to support extra curricular activities and complementary classes to support children’s learning; Action Tutoring which works with pupils preparing for GCSEs who are C/D borderline; and the London Evening Standard ‘Get London Reading’ campaign. This is just a short list of organisations which are working hard to address educational disadvantage in the UK by reinforcing the work done in school.
Indeed, Gove acknowledges the importance of extra support in education and suggests extending the school day so that students have more access to extra curricular activities and study support. However, if this happens across the board, the extra support provided will still be given within a whole class learning model, when what students might really be needing is more individual support.
Like the initiatives listed above, The Tutorfair Foundation can also help bridge this gap because for every child who pays for tutoring, we give tutoring to a child who can’t afford it. Students are given extra support by Tutorfair tutors and other volunteers, in small groups or one-to-one, complementing the work done in class. This doesn’t just help from a purely instructional point of view; the level of attention from an engaging, highly educated adult increases children’s confidence so that they enjoy learning more and feel more encouraged to work in school. Discipline often becomes less problematic too, as students learn to deal with the frustrations holding them back at school.
We can’t necessarily transform education with more of the same but with new ideas, new programmes and new people, the vision to have country without education inequality seems more attainable. And, we certainly cannot deny that there is a huge amount of goodwill and desire out there to make this happen.
Photograph from en.wikipedia.org CC-by