To paraphrase a report today, "Since 2012 pupils from high-income families have made more progress year-on-year than poorer classmates".
If this is, indeed an accurate summary, I began to speculate why this may be the case.
We are in a very strange economic period, with many people working in low paid jobs, more than likely renting in a market where costs appear to be rising significantly annually.
Where people are working in reasonably well paid jobs and may well have started to purchase a house, their mortgage rate is significantly lower than at any point that I can remember. Unless this has led them to borrow too highly, the repayments could still be manageable. I may not be alone in remembering when mortgage interest was at 15%. even on a relatively small mortgage, it meant pulling back on unnecessary spending. It was the point where my wife and I became vegetarian; half a kilo of pulses cost significantly less than half a kilo of meat.
In both cases, additional personal debts, through bank loans or credit cards may also be a drain on finances.
To me, a significant factor will always be the amount of disposable income, for discretionary spending, after all bills have been paid, with consequent decisions that are made as to how it will be spent or saved. It’s whether other demands, like children needing shoes, or other clothes, or perhaps replacing a specific piece of household machinery need to be considered first.
How does this impact on social mobility? I’d pose the view that children from better off families have greater access to social activities that cost money and fall within discretionary spending; sports and other activities, in and out of school, visits to places of interest, museums and galleries, with entry and transport costs. They may well share more social gatherings. They may also have greater access to personal ownership of books and other elements that aid learning, such as wifi and computer links.
Each of these opportunities provides valuable opportunity to talk within a family or a social group, generating a greater social vocabulary and to develop social awareness and confidence. It broadens their view of the world, of possibility and aspiration. If you have never had sufficient money to make decisions that can appear to be frittering it on fripperies, you’re likely to hold back in some way, a form of self-limiting.
It is for all these reasons that schools need to be aware of their communities, to make appropriate decisions to offer opportunity to address some embedded deprivation. It is easy for schools to espouse a “high expectation” mantra, but it is also a case for having high expectations of the school and the teachers to broaden horizons, open eyes to the potential around them and to harness the community, including parents, to support the children for whom they have joint responsibility to educate, formally and informally.
Why does London appear to do better that other areas? I’d suggest that free transport for children and relatively easy access to free world class galleries, museums and other culturally rich experiences is likely to have a part to play; something that might be unthinkable in other areas. I recall a trip to a Redruth (Cornwall) school, where teachers were aware of children who had not visited the sea, four miles away, purely because of transport costs.
I could see a strong argument for a part of Pupil Premium moneys being allocated to providing social learning opportunity outside of the school experience, to address elements of the inequality, providing experiences that enhance formal school situations.
Social inequality? We have inequality in disposable income, but possibly also inequality of awareness. It's not the children at fault for being born into poorer families. It might be argued that it is a state responsibility to address the issues arising.
That plays a significant part in a child accessing social experience, which, in turn becomes debilitating socially. Poverty creates poverty of opportunity.