Whilst we should be cautious about using year-on-year data to draw conclusions about our education system, the report highlights three important trends that our previous research has explained and responded to.
This blog takes EPI and the FEA’s data as a starting point and explains the reasons behind the trends before setting out potential solutions.
1. Black Caribbean pupils falling behind
EPI’s analysis reveals that Black Caribbean pupils’ attainment has been falling further behind White British pupils’ attainment since 2011. Both Black Caribbean boys and girls face considerable barriers to educational attainment and our 2018 report “Boys on Track” focuses in on Black Caribbean boys to highlight three particularly acute challenges that these pupils face:
- Structural and societal pressures such as stereotyping and societal blame: we spoke to young people who explained that they felt unfairly singled out in the media. Meanwhile professionals raised concerns about self-fulfilling prophesies when it came to these pupils’ behaviour at school.
- School factors: conscious and unconscious bias can lead to low expectations as demonstrated by research showing that these pupils’ achievement is consistently underestimated in teacher assessments compared to standardised public exams.
- Poverty and stress at home: these can impact on engagement with school, mental health and wellbeing.
Addressing these issues is not easy but a starting point would be to ensure that the school workforce is diverse and that it includes teachers from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds – at every level.
The DfE therefore needs to work with grassroots organisations and the Teaching Agency to develop recruitment campaigns that target BAME communities. Meanwhile, school leaders, governors, and MATs should ensure that teachers from BAME backgrounds have fair access to career support, training and progression – something our research suggests is not currently the case with many BAME teachers reporting frustrated career ambitions.
2. Entrenched educational disadvantage for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) pupils
The gap in attainment between pupils from GRT backgrounds and other groups of pupils is huge – EPI estimate that by the end of Year 11, GRT pupils make nearly 3 years less progress than White British pupils.
This group of pupils are incredibly marginalised in the UK and some of these young people have arrived from countries in which they were denied basic access to healthcare and education.
These challenges cannot be underestimated.
Our 2017 report particularly highlights three barriers GRT pupils face and many of these overlap with the challengesBlack Caribbean pupils face:
- Cultural barriers: mobility; language and system knowledge; norms, aspirations and expectations; and, cultural identity
- Material barriers: poverty; inadequate housing and homelessness; and, access to healthcare and special educational needs support
- Prejudice and discrimination: discriminatory attitudes and media prejudice; schools’ response to discrimination; self-exclusion from mainstream education as a result of discrimination; and, discrimination in HE.
Teachers therefore need training to help them recognise and challenge unconscious bias towards pupils from minority ethnic groups. When it comes to GRT pupils in particular, schools need to challenge derogatory language and discrimination which has been described as ‘the last resepctable form of racism,’ in consistent and clear ways.
3. Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
Using attainment data to draw conclusions about educational achievement amongst pupils with SEND is tricky: pupils with SEND are not a homogenous group and whilst some pupils’ needs impact profoundly on their academic attainment, others’ needs or disabilities do not. Therefore, in some cases, when pupils with SEND finish school 2 to 4 years behind their peers, this can be a significant achievement. However, for others this data highlights the system’s failure to provide the support these pupils need.
Our forthcoming research with Disability Rights UK highlights the bullying and discrimination that pupils with SEND often experience in schools, whilst “Joining the Dots”, and our report on the link between poverty and SEND reveal worrying disparities in the quality of support that pupils with SEND receive.
Key factors behind the trends include:
- Informal exclusion from the mainstream, through ‘backdoor’ admissions policies or off-rolling;
- Local authorities’ capacity to oversee and quality assure support;
- Teachers’ confidence and skil in supporting pupils with SEND.
Government therefore needs to increase SEND funding. This should happen both through per pupil top-ups that go to schools, as well as funding for local authorities to support families (for example through specialist support).
Whilst the trends highlighted in today’s report are worrying, we hope that our research reveals some of the factors driving these trends, helping us to identify actions that would address the issues.
This blog highlights just a few reasons behind the trends, and a selection of responses, however our full reports provide a far more detailed response and we’d love to hear your thoughts on them!