Friday insights round-up (22 Feb)

22 February 2019

In this week’s Friday insights round-up, the results from the social mobility All Party Parliamentary Group’s (APPG) inquiry into the attainment gap are in, we have updates from EasyPeasy and early years, insights in inclusion, and some choice words from teachers about teacher wellbeing and the government’s new character building strategy.

Social Mobility

The Sutton Trust’s overview of the social mobility APPG’s inquiry report sums up the problem:

“The attainment gap, the gap in school exam results between pupils from different social backgrounds, is one of the key challenges in our education system. Differences in school achievement act as a block on social mobility and have real consequences for the life chances of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Such differences are not just social in origin, they are also geographical.”

When seeking the reasons for the differences in school outcomes between areas, they found the following:

  • Disadvantaged pupils nationally lag behind the average by around half a grade per subject, but those in London perform about the same as the average student nationally. 
  • Some of the success in London can be attributed to the London Challenge, which brought together local players with a vested interest in exam outcomes. In order for this to be recreated in other areas, buy in from both national and local governments is crucial.
  • Facilitating the sharing of best practice is also crucial – while pockets of collaboration exist across the country, sharing of remains a difficult exercise.
  • School funding can make a big difference for disadvantaged pupils, and issues around pupil premium spending remain a challenge.
  • Disadvantaged students are more likely to be taught by less qualified teachers – recruiting and retaining experienced and qualified teachers in schools in disadvantaged areas is a challenge, and lack of continuing professional development (CPD) has been cited as a particular issue here.
  • Early years provision is hugely significant – children hold on to the gains that they make in early years education throughout their lives, making them better learners and therefore progressing further. The fact that government has shifted its focus from early years education to early years childcare so parents can get back to work is affecting quality of provision in this crucial development phase in a child’s life.

Early Years

Big Change project partner EasyPeasy had some exciting news this week – they’ll be partnering with the I CAN trust to reach 9,000 families and 150 early years providers.

They have also been listed in the Early Intervention Foundation’s guidebook, which provides information on early years interventions with proven positive outcomes for children. Needless to say, we couldn’t be more proud!

As well as being expressly mentioned in the social mobility APPG’s inquiry report, the importance of early years education was mentioned in a number of key places this week. 

The DfE announced they will be launching a series of trials in the north-east that are meant to boost literacy and numeracy in disadvantaged children through a series of texts, suggesting different games and activities to help their children learn, such as counting the number of plates on a dinner table. 

It is one of a number of trials being launched by the DfE aimed at supporting the early educational development of disadvantaged children who, on average, are four months behind their wealthier peers by the age of five. By the time they sit their GCSEs, their overall attainment lags by 19 months.

Early years development is crucial since 80% of our brains develop by the age of five. Big Change welcomes efforts to improve early years education – and we hope the DfE are working to make their suggested activities inclusive for all families.


A study by Oxford University found that many black pupils in England are having their education dumbed down after being wrongly identified as having one of a range of special needs. Black Caribbean students are more than twice as likely to be identified as having a social, emotional or mental health (SEMH) needs – the study could not explain this level of over-representation, and urged schools to look at the potential for discrimination in their disciplinary policies.

Behaviour that has been identified as ‘challenging’ is the leading reason for exclusion or movement of pupils to alternative provision, where young people can often get stuck. When not excluded, being identified as having a SEMH need can lead to the narrowing of pupils academic options in school; a ‘dumbing down’ of their curriculum.

There is lots at play here – from racial bias, mental health stigma, and a lack the knowledge and experience to identify the root causes of challenging behaviour. Our project partner, The Difference addresses the last of these three, through its two-year leadership program giving the teachers the knowledge and skills to teach more vulnerable students.

Ethical Leadership Commission, is also working to come up with a code of ethics to help teachers navigate education’s ‘moral maze’, where bias, exclusion and off-rolling can be prevalent due to a preoccupation with exam results.

Teacher Wellbeing

History teacher Tom Rogers had some choice thoughts on how not to do teacher wellbeing in Tes this week, and one thing has become clear – cakes and yoga will not do the trick.

Teacher wellbeing requires time and respect, Rogers says – which is why we’re proud to support project partners Achievement for All, Institute for Teaching, Bounce Forward and Whole Education, who are working with teachers and leaders to create the conditions for teachers to do their important work without sacrificing wellbeing.

Character Building

Laura McInerney had a few words to say about the Education Secretary’s new character building focus, and the privilege biases inherent within them. She called for the foundations for character building to be more inclusive – while joining Scouts and volunteering is a way to build character, so is caring for five siblings while your parent is at work.

We hope that as the DfE starts implementing new strategies and trials, that they are designed to help all young people succeed – this will involve scanning their suggestions for inherent biases and being open to feedback from different voices.