Inequality? Don’t Start Me….

Don’t you feel such pain for the politicians – and Nick Clegg – who are faced with the horrendous choice of whether to send their kids to private school or the local state pile? Of course they must think of what is best for them. Who wouldn’t? But therein lies the rub. Our elected politicians are placed in the very public position of admitting that our states schools are not good enough for them. And, in doing so, very publicly give the finger to the constituents who they represent, who cannot afford to make the decisions over which their elected officials are wringing their hands. Am I envious of the fact that they can? That’s not the point. No one should have to.

The reality is that, according to Dylan Wiliam anyway, pupils don’t get access to better teaching in Private schools.

‘…controlling for the social class of the students, students in state schools and private schools in the UK perform about the same – in fact there is not a single OECD country in which, after controlling for social class, students in private schools do better than in state schools.’ (Wiliam, see reference below)

Shoot me now for saying it. They get access to better equipment; access to better extra curricular facilities. But don’t dare tell me that staff in private schools are better than those in the state sector. Some may well be; some may well be worse.

‘The presence of high-achieving students improves the achievement of others students in the class, so the same student will do better in a selective private school than a state school, but the reason is because of peer group, rather than the quality of the teaching.’ (Wiliam, see reference below)

It might stick in some people’s throats though that support from home – a desk to work at, a warm house, food on the table, visits to galleries and theatre with the family – is the most important key to a better education. Oh and, of course, you can avoid those annoying scruffy kids who only want to mess about. Would that be somewhere nearer the truth?

From my own recent experience I’ve found that, even in my sector, there is a growing divide. Access to Technology is the biggest social divider in schools.

Take two classes. One, a very highly motivated S4 (year 10 or 11?) class who will go on to achieve good grades and further education. I blogged about this class before, here. We studied Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ before Christmas, spent loads of time talking about Atticus’ decision to defend Tom Robinson and how it affected his family and community. But it is so much more than that. Choosing their own topics, they went on to produce some wonderful work. Film, prezi, report, the finished products were wonderful. Of course they had to finish them at home. But they could. They had the equipment and the access. A job well done.

Class two are not so well motivated. Set since the age of twelve they are reminded of their place in the school every day. They see the same kids in every class, the same behaviors. The same disinterest, the same low expectations. We studied ‘Of Mice and Men’ and they loved the book. Discussing the themes of loneliness, the elderly, unemployment, Austerity, they also were given the freedom to choose a topic which they could complete in any way.
They grabbed the opportunity to work on blogs and prezis and short films. A couple of boys attempted to create a Music Festival for Protest Singers. Set lists, biographies, programmes. Amazingly creative.

But, for most of them, the work stopped at the classroom door. They had no Internet access at home. No environment which would encourage the work they were doing in class. They were not likely to give up lunch breaks because it wasn’t part of their culture. Projects were mostly decent but not as good as they could have been. School equipment is often out of date, broken or simply to difficult to gain access to. They have smartphones but they don’t now what to do with them. They can’t use them.

I’m sorry but a society which allows you the opportunity to buy yourself a better education is simply wrong. You’ll never convince me otherwise. It creates the very divisions which the private school educated classes complain about. But before we tackle that issue we need to address the very real social divisions which exist in most state schools in Scotland, I would imagine. If access to technology is to be our children’s future then that must be equal access. Whether that is one-to-one tablets or anything else, more up-to-date equipment in schools, I don’t know, but it needs to happen. Otherwise, an unhealthy divide between state and private sector will be the least of our worries. The state system will be actively contributing to it.

from ‘Are There Good Schools and Bad Schools?’ Dylan Wiliam in ‘Bad Education. Debunking Myths in Education’ ed by Adey and Dillon OU Press,2012

One thought on “Inequality? Don’t Start Me….

  1. Thanks Kenny. It had never occurred to me before that setting might contribute to what PISA called a second digital divide, that inability to navigate the digital world you refer to here with mobiles. The classroom is an ideal place to learn from one another, but it won’t happen in this situation. Link:
    Interestingly, I have met parents whose children attend private schools yet worry that those schools don’t encourage learners to engage with the web to the same extent as their local state schools. Whether that is the case, I don’t know. There is always a tendency to use technology to do the same things, but electronically (substitution). Perhaps having more kit might actually increase the inertia around existing practices? It may be, though, that state schools are in the lead here, and that their more relaxed approach to control of their brand image could be a big advantage in enabling learners to engage with the web.

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