Session 29: Closing the Gap: Why is the achievement gap between rich and poor children so wide?

Session Title
Closing the Gap: Why is the achievement gap between rich and poor children so wide in the UK? What can be done to close the gap?

Session Summary

The UKedchat session this week was suggested by Film Club UK back in November 2010, when they were holding a conference designed to get participants thinking about the educational gaps between rich and poor children in UK society. It proved to be a fully engaging sessions starting off looking at parental involvement, and getting parents more involved from deprived backgrounds. The lack of support some pupils get from poorer families was evident in the discussion, while richer families can afford to pay for opportunities to widen experiences. It was highlighted that there may be deep routed problems which get in the way of pupils from deprived families, however it was acknowledged how some people have such a low value to the education system due to their own poor experiences, accepting their place in the world without constructive challenge.

The discussion moved on to teachers expectations of pupils, and whether the profession being ‘middle class’ was a de-motivator for pupils and parents from a deprived background. The issue of streaming was raised, with the question of whether streaming pupils (in primaries or secondaries) helps widen the achievement gap. A few participants advocated that they would like to fully endorse mixed ability teaching although other contributions noted that streaming can really support those pupils who need that further provision. This is an interesting area as memories of streaming from participants own experiences as pupils were shared, with some admirable stories of achievement despite being streamed at lower levels in their own schooling. Basically, some pupils appeared motivated by this, whilst others go the other way, with more negative outcomes. The importance of personalisation was noted. I liked the question raised; how would you feel being “streamed” in staff meetings. Anyone else think they’d be resentful? – That summed it up for me.

The discussion moved to self-belief and self-esteem. We were reminded that the power of the teacher needs to be remembered, as our comments (flippant or not) can aid or destroy confidence in just one statement, and as a profession can inadvertently classify pupils based on their name, ability, social group and expectations. Some of the answers can be found within personalization, collaboration, peer feedback, and co-construction, so it’s not all doom and gloom, but teachers and the education system still has a big part to play in finding an answer in the closing the gap debate.

The Full Archive is available to view/download at

Eye-Catching Tweets:
@missbrownsword – the gap is already there when the children start school.
@filmclubuk – @colport One of the main things that emerged was the need to provide a range of experiences that kids might not get elsewhere.
@jodieworld – The curriculum needs to change and be flexible so that schools can choose the right approach for them in all areas and parental involvement needs to improve in deprived areas. Often the parents do not have the skills to pass on.
@Creativeedu – I have noticed a huge difference in parental involvement in schools in poorer areas vs richer areas.
@hairysporran – having worked in a school at the bottom of the tables for 10 yrs its stunning the lack of parental support you get. apathy!
@Arakwai – Feel strongly a big part is lack of self belief & low expectations. Heart-breaking to see bright kids not believing they are.
@Creativeedu – There can often be deep problems which get in the way of learning in deprived areas.
@VMM40BUG – Scary how some parents undervalue education, accept their ‘place’ in the world and pass these aspirations onto their children.
@didactylos – parents who had a bad experience of education remain alienated and isolated from its benefits for their kids.
@bevevans22 – @cleverfiend Yes – -if parents found school daunting or difficult they can pass on that vibe to children.
@didactylos – the culture of learning a child may experience in a school is less than 25% of their day’s overall experience… an issue?
@tonycassidy – As a child I sadly experienced the low expectations of some of my teachers, not my parents.
@jimbo9848 – It is at best wrong to trick people into our cultural curriculum models and notions of schooling. There’s a lot of blame going on!
@pete_mulvey – Less well off: Perceived lack of ambition and motivation with lower expectations of success.
@tonycassidy – What are we aiming for with students? Material success, or personal contentment, or both?
@hairysporran – have also found this yr that teaching pupils from yrs 5,6,7,8 in same ability class has helped engage older pupils in lessons.
@bevevans22 – @colport we stream because we get a huge influx of pupils with specific needs due to school reputation in that area.
@DrAshCasey – reading John Medina’s brain rules & he says we need to have smaller class sizes and stop assuming that learning is equal with age.
@tonycassidy – @colport I experienced between grouped by ability in one classroom, whilst I was at primary- hated it.
@ParsleyBill – I failed my 11+ and seriously believe it scarred me for life. Makes you feel inferior.
@phillengthorn – I’m currently teaching bottom Y11 and i think they do set themselves lower expectations.
@jodieworld – there was a study once where a teacher thought he was teaching top set but was teaching bottoms. They did better than the top set!
@Creativeedu – I was at a low achieving primary school. It was very uncool to try hard….
@janwebb21 – @bevevans22 it’s why personalisation is SOOO important – one size doe NOT fit all.
@Kerileef: @colport – remember that ‘closing the gap’ in exam results etc isn’t really the purpose of education, just a proxy?
@Catriona_O – @colport only that we’ve bn trying 4 3 centuries now and still haven’t cracked it. In fact, R we nearer, or further away?

Tweet(s) of the Week:
In such an engaging session, it is difficult to pinpoint just one tweet, so here’s a selection of those which resonated with me:
@jodieworld – how can someone aim for a life they have no exp. of? we need to show them whats out there and let them set their expectations.
@pete_mulvey – Less well off: Perceived lack of ambition and motivation with lower expectations of success.
@DrAshCasey – I wrote once (reflecting on being 11 and in the bottom stream 4 everything) that I had no where to go and nothing to aspire to.
headteacher01 – Surely the key is grounded in our expectations of pupils? If our expectations are limited… then achievement will be too.
jackieschneider How would you feel being “streamed” in staff meetings. Anyone else think they’d be resentful?
@missbrownsword – high expectations, all the time, from all staff in school would be a good start I think
@bevevans22 – @colport Build a community, be supportive, have high expectation for all and make children ready for their future!! #ukedchat

However, I like this positive shout…

@JamiePortman – The gap would be even wider if not for us like minded teachers. Let’s celebrate successes, replicate them & spread the word!

Useful Weblinks Shared During the Session:
@Creativeedu = highlights for anyone who missed it at the time. relevant to #ukedchat
@GiftedPhoenix – Here’s a creative proposal to engage grammar schools more directly in closing the gap – – #ukedchat
@CliveBuckley – The UK is ranked =43 in int table of spending on education (% of GDP) Guess #1? #ukedchat
@hairysporran – if your lookin for models there is some good practice and interesting ideas here #ukedchat
@AndrewManson1 – #ukedchat @Grevster73 @eyebeams – I went to a TeachFirst workshop from Sonia Blandford presenting ace evidence
@Janshs – going to RT this from earlier #ukedchat (re 11 plus etc)
@bevevans22 – Does anyone else here use the PASS assessment scheme to monitor well being? #ukedchat
@Kerileef – @colport – see – challenge 4 on future of work and employment.

Book Highlighted
The Elephant in the Classroom: Helping Children Learn and Love Maths

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About UKEdChat Editorial 3187 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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