‘It’s our job to take the limits away’: A case study approach to exploring culture of teacher expectations in an English secondary school

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Education Research from UWE reaches around the globe…

In this article, Dr Smith draws on her doctoral research, carried out in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, investigating the beliefs and practices of high expectation teachers.

Although Dr Smith’s EdD thesis was only submitted recently, it has already had global reach. One of her supervisors, Dr Richard Waller received an unexpected email from a researcher at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research who wrote to say how impressed he was with the quality of Dr Smith’s research.

Having only had my thesis revisions accepted in June, I am still somewhat in a haze and only just beginning to reflect on my doctoral journey. I began my professional doctorate in education with a keen interest in extending my understanding and in improving practice: I wanted to generate professional knowledge that would have real impact. Achieving that goal was without doubt a challenging, but incredibly rewarding and enriching experience.

My professional interest in my research project was born from a sense of social injustice. Having taught in the state sector for over twenty years, I have been increasingly troubled by the concept of labelling and notions of fixed abilities that are prevalent in our education system. From the earliest stages of formal education, teachers are required to make predictions about future development of the children based on present attainment, as well as determining students’ academic ability. Children from lower socio-economic groups and from particular minority ethnic groups are over-represented in lower sets and streams, and allocation to these groups does not always match the level of ‘ability’ as designated by test scores. As children progress through school, attainment gaps widen between children from lower socio-economic groups and their peers, suggesting that schooling exacerbates inequalities in educational attainment.

This sense of injustice led me to explore the beliefs of ‘high expectation teachers’, and the practices through which teachers aim to build an inclusive learning environment, in addition to the ways they develop strategies that do not rely on pre-determined ability labelling. This exploration led me to understand that what constitutes a ‘high expectation’ teacher needed to be investigated from particular locations: through government policy; through theoretical models; through professional regulation and performance management, and through notions of professional identity. I learnt that these positions sometimes overlap, but at times, also conflict with one another.

The case study design of my research is focussed on one phenomenon, that of the beliefs and practices of high expectation teachers, and one bounded case illustrates the phenomenon. The case is specific, and bounded by time and location. It is intended to emphasize uniqueness through the in-depth exploration of the participants’ experiences. Within this bounded system are the relationships between people and events, and within those are differing perspectives, as the positions on what makes a ‘high expectation’ teacher are contradictory, and not universally agreed.

I used thematic analysis to analyse data collected through questionnaires, interviews and focus groups, but reflected that despite the in-depth nature of this analysis, the phenomena of high teacher expectation remained only partially scrutinised in terms of social justice. Therefore, the social concerns raised throughout my study are also explored through the theories of Bourdieu with the aim of making sense of the wider issues of inequality inherent in this study, particularly in the sense that habitus is helped by, and helps shape, pedagogical action.

My findings are that there needs to be a recognition that in education, socially advantaged interests and voices dominate in terms of social mobility agendas. Social cohesion is therefore a challenge as inequality rises from an education system tailored to white, middle-class values, and until we value the diversity of heritage in all its forms, we cannot hope for greater equity for our students. Furthermore, teachers tend to be granted space in the public domain only through technical competency. Findings also suggest that teachers must be able to be emotionally committed to different aspects of their jobs, as their sense of moral responsibility is at the core of their professional identity.

The research also challenges the assumption that academic achievement is paramount and suggests that there are many other measures of success, in which students discover and are celebrated for a particular talent, or a passion for something new. The ability to make choices should be a fundamental right and should be accessible to all as a result of social justice.

This presents a challenge in today’s economic and political climate. At the time of writing the thesis, 4.1 million children in the UK are living in poverty, a rise of 500,000 in the last five years, and in-work poverty has been rising even faster than unemployment, driven almost entirely by increasing poverty among working parents. In addition to the economic context our young people are living in, educational policy increases social inequities rather than reducing the poverty attainment gap. For example, additional funding has been allocated for new grammar school places, despite evidence that dividing children into the most ‘able’ and the rest from an early age does not appear to lead to better results for either group, including for the most disadvantaged students.

The financial landscape for most schools paints a bleaker picture than that for grammar schools. A further significant challenge for the education sector is the recruitment of the required number of teachers of sufficient quality and motivation, at a time of continued public pay restraint and rising student numbers. Similarly, spending on early education, Sure Start and the childcare element of Working Tax Credit fell by 21% from 2009–10 and 2012–13, with falls of 11% for early education, 29% for targeted support for childcare and 32% for Sure Start. Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit payments were frozen in financial terms. In addition to cuts to income support, community-based support services and to the funding of voluntary groups and services, this financial context may have an impact on children as they enter the school system.

Furthermore, Britain’s high-status professions remain dominated by the privileged; those from traditionally working-class backgrounds earn on average £6,800 less than colleagues from professional and managerial backgrounds. Although students in my study feel that they can ‘get ahead’ on merit, it could be suggested that British society is profoundly unfair. Education is crucial to change, but it cannot be considered in isolation if we are going to tackle the challenge of disadvantage. Education must be freed from its current constraints so that educators have the opportunity to develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full.

Within the constraints of this wider context, one recommendation that arose from the study with the aim of creating a culture of high expectations is that a form of ‘high-integrity’ setting could be implemented in schools. In practice, strategies such as: making setting as subject-specific as possible; grouping students by attainment rather than perceived effort; regularly testing and moving students between sets, and using a lottery system when assigning borderline students to sets may help mitigate the consequences of attainment grouping. Schools, however, may be deterred from implementing more equitable grouping practices by perceptions of middle-class parental and student preferences for attainment grouping. A further complication raised in this study is that most teachers who currently teach in attainment groupings believe that mixed attainment groupings would create further barriers to progress.

A final reflection for me is on the complex and problematic nature of the barriers to creating a culture of high expectation. I entered into this research project with a rather idealistic notion that exploring one definition of high-expectation beliefs and teaching practices could lead to the creation of a culture of high expectation. The reality is far messier. In addition to my exploration of the contradictory definitions of what makes a ‘high expectation’ teacher, research discourse related to teachers tends to be prescriptive, rather than serious study of, or collaboration with, those prescribed to or portrayed. This resonates with my own professional experience, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to explore this complex phenomenon through several lenses, even though at times these lenses seemed somewhat elusive!

Dr. Julie Smith has recently completed her doctoral research into the beliefs and practices of high expectation teachers, in the Department of Education and Childhood under the supervision of Dr. Richard Waller, Dr. Nicola Bowden-Clissold and Dr. Sarah Chicken. She is also Vice-Principal at a secondary school in Gloucestershire.

Follow Dr Julie Smith on twitter

References:

Archer, L., Francis, B., Miller, S., Taylor, B., Tereshchenko, A., Mazenod, A., Pepper, D. and Travers, M. C. (2018) The symbolic violence of setting: A Bourdieusian analysis of mixed methods data on secondary school students’ views about setting. British Educational Research Journal. 44 (1), pp. 119–40.

Barnard, H., Collingwood, A., Leese, D., Wenham, A., Drake, D, Smith, E. and Kumar, A (2018) UK Poverty 2018 [online].York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available from: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2018 [Accessed 25 April 2019].

Blandford, S. (2018) Born To Fail? Social Mobility: A Working Class View. Suffolk: John Catt.

Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction. In:R. Brown, ed., (1973) Knowledge, Education, and Cultural Change: Papers in the Sociology of Education. London: Tavistock, pp. 71–112.

Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction.London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1992) The purpose of reflexive sociology. In Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L., eds., (1992) An Introduction to Reflexive Sociology.Cambridge: Polity Press, pp.61–217.

Bourdieu, P. (2002) Habitus. In: Hiller, J. and Rooksby, E., eds., (2002) Habitus: A Sense of Place. Farnham: Ashgate, pp.27–34.Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J. C. (1977) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage.

Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology. 3 (2), pp. 77–101.

Clifton, J., and Cook, W. (2012). A long division: Closing the attainment gap in England’s secondary schools. London: IPPR.

De Boer, H., Timmermans, A. C. and P. C. van der Werf, M (2018) The effects of teacher expectation interventions on teachers’ expectations and student achievement: narrative review and meta-analysis. Educational Research and Evaluation. 24 (3-5), pp. 180-200.

Francis, B., Taylor, B., Hodgen, J., Tereshchenko, A. and Archer, L. (2018). Dos and don’ts of attainment grouping. London: UCL Institute of Education.

Friedman, S. and Savage, M. (2017) The Shifting Politics of Inequality and the Class Ceiling. Renewal.25 (2), pp. 31–40.

Gorard, S. and Siddiqui, N. (2016) Grammar Schools in England: a new approach to analysing their intake and outcomes. Project report. Durham: Durham University.

Harrison, N. and Waller, R. (2017) Success and Impact in Widening Participation Policy: What Works and How Do We Know? Higher Education Policy.30 (2), pp. 141–160.

Hart, S., Annabelle, D., Drummond, M. J. and McIntyre, D. (2004) Learning Without Limits. Berkshire: OUP.

Jussim, L. and Harber, K. (2005) Teacher Expectations and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Knowns and Unknowns, Resolved and Unresolved Controversies. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 9 (2), pp.131–55.

Lupton, R., Burchardt, T., Fitzgerald, A., Hills, A., McKnight, A., Obolenskaya, P. Stewart, K., Thomson, S., Tunstall, R. and Vizard, P. (2015) The Coalition’s Social Policy Record: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015. Social Policy in a Cold Climate Report 4 [online]. Manchester: University of Manchester; London School of Economics and the University of York. Available from http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/spcc/rr04.pdf [Accessed 27 May 2019].

Nias, J. (1989). Primary teachers talking: A study of teaching as work. London: Routledge.

Rosenthal, R. and Jacobson, L. (1968) Pygmalion in the Classroom: teacher expectation and pupil’s intellectual development.New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Rubie-Davies, C. (2015) Becoming A High Expectation Teacher: Raising The Bar.Abingdon: Routledge.

Stake, R. E. (2005). Qualitative case studies. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 443-466). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

UNCRC (1990) The United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child [online]. UK: Unicef.Available from: https://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/ [Accessed 23 October 2017].

School reopening? top scientists say not yet*

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“It is clear from the evidence we have collected that 1 June is simply too early to go back. By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike.” (Sir David King, Independent SAGE Group)

This blog post could end there, but given the high stakes, it’s worth pondering more…

Teachers and their unions have been robustly rallying against the Government’s decision to re-open schools as early as June 1st. Some sections of the press and government ministers have revisited Michael Gove’s characterisation of these opponents as the “Blob”, who according to the Daily Mail is

“made up of political opponents, union barons and local government administrations – is colluding to sabotage the reopening of schools.”

In 2013, I was one of the 100 academics who signed a letter against Gove’s damaging curriculum reforms, and this time it’s even more serious, so much so that the neutral British Medical Association (BMA) have supported the call from the Independent SAGE Group to keep schools closed for the time-being.

Because of misleading advice and data issued by Downing Street, renowned medical scientists decided to set-up an Independent SAGE group (ISG).

The ISG’s opposition to 1st June re-opening of schools came after a meeting, which included Mumsnet, and supplemented by rigorous advice from expert educationists. Professor Sir David King concluded that there is almost zero chance of conditions being reached for a safe reopening of schools on 1 June.

The report makes clear that decisions on school re-opening should depend on low levels of infections in the community and the capacity to respond quickly to new infections through a local test, track and isolate strategy. We are not there yet.

Although children are less likely than adults to get ill, they are still transmission agents. Even the DfE advice seems to reflect this concern:

Some studies suggest younger children may transmit less, but this evidence is mixed and provides a low degree of confidence at best.”

So, a child carrying the infection but not showing symptoms could spread it unnoticed to other children and staff, and it could then reach family members with existing medical problems as well as older relatives. The collateral damage could be fatally serious.

The Government have been keen to stress that their decision was about ethics stating that working class children are being disproportionately disadvantaged because they do not have the learning resources that children from wealthier families have for home schooling.

But the ISG report stresses that rather than rushing to re-open schools, it would be safer to provision computer equipment and offer distance learning. When the conditions are appropriate, outdoor (where transmission is minimised) summer activity schemes, including educational “catch up” sessions would be a viable option.

The current situation opens-up existential questions about how we conceive of education.  We in the Reclaiming Schools network have (long) argued that it is necessary to take a rounded view of children’s needs, not just getting children (back) behind desks.

Education should be geared for developing children’s social, emotional, and wider characteristics. In this context, one could imagine a school strictly adhering to social distancing being harmful for children. Stories of nurseries and reception classes having to remove all toys for a June 1st re-opening are clearly being forced to create an environment devoid of richness.

Furthermore, the Government instruction to get the youngest children back first is questionable. In most nations in the world, the school starting age is 6 or 7, so very few children of nursery and reception age are actually in school.

Mental health problems in children are always much lower in countries with admission at age 6 or 7. Children have had the chance to be children, and without baseline testing (followed by high stakes tests at 7, 11, 16 – England tests more than any comparable country).

There is a strong case to postpone national standardised high stakes testing, it would provide an opportunity to evaluate the impact of tests on children and teachers.

In any given year, around 15% of teacher leave the profession just after 12 months, and over 30% leave within 5 years. In most cases, that’s 4 years of education/training to find out that teaching is not only hard work, the external pressures of tests and league tables make it mentally and physically damaging, ultimately impossible.

Beyond and C-19, we need to reclaim education to make it progressive and socially responsible, and a National Education Service provides a vehicle to do this. 

Dr Alpesh Maisuria is Associate Professor of Education Policy in Critical Education at the University of the West of England. He writes widely about issues of social class, educational policy, neoliberalism and Marxism, as well the proposal of the Nationalised Education Service; academy and free schools; private schools; Swedish social democracy and class. This blog post is written in a personal capacity. 

*Sections of this writing have been reworked from a Reclaiming Schools blog post. Alpesh Maisuria is a Steering Group member of Reclaiming Schools.

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 7

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Equality of learning in lockdown …

In the seventh in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead considers some of the challenges families from disadvantaged groups are facing in lockdown and what is needed to combat these inequalities.

Nine weeks in…

 … here in England things are changing. We’re now allowed to sit in a park and have a picnic. We can have as much exercise as we like and even go to garden centres. The first steps of returning to ‘normality’ are tentatively taking shape. However, the outlook for young people to return to schools and colleges is not on the horizon and our youth continue to be home schooled.

For some youngsters home schooling is working. Lessons are emailed in, downloaded and supported by parents and carers. However, there has been and continues to be a disproportionate impact of Covid19.

Home schooling has been dominated by online access. Week after week we welcome more organisations supporting online learning with free access to their resources, daily online activities and a social media frenzy of ideas to keep young people engaged while stuck at home. This blog has done its fair share of sharing such websites. But what about those who haven’t got access to the internet?

This week, the Good Law Project has argued that the reliance on online learning during lockdown is illegally disadvantaging some young learners who don’t have access to tablets and laptops and inadequate broadband. If hardware is available it may be shared by the family and pupils won’t have access to it for school work when they need it.

Add to this how greater numbers of lower income families, in what tend to be  more densely populated homes, are having to turn to food banks. Those pupils who would normally receive free school meals are having to negotiate new systems and pressures to ensure they have food.   In such circumstances it is not surprising that these groups have been the most harshly hit by the virus.

Covid19 has shown the reality of inequality in the UK.

Over the coming weeks it is essential that educational inequalities are addressed else the most vulnerable will become yet more vulnerable. But what intervention would work? Many schools are reporting distributing laptops and tablets to their most disadvantaged pupils, but this doesn’t ensure there is access to broadband or even electricity to support them.  This cannot be the answer.

Our most disadvantaged learners need a clear and supported educational strategy to ensure that the gap in achievement is not increased; every individual needs to be supported in order to meet their potential.

Reopening schools as soon as possible is not the answer.

It needs to be safe for both pupils and staff. Once back, the gaps need to be assessed and the curriculum adjusted. Reform is essential in order to rebalance teacher workload and improve the retention of our teachers so consistency can be maintained for our learners. Reform is essential to rethink the exams and assessments undertaken at all school stages and take account of the inequalities the pandemic has accentuated. We cannot just expect the gaps to grow and mind them.

Our education system needs to be right for all, not just for some. It is failing and will continue to fail if systematic change does not occur. 

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

Follow Dr Verity Jones on Twitter

Lock down for teenagers

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Dr Fay Lewis Programme Leader for the MA Education at UWE explores ways in which older teenagers can maintain a sense of purpose during lock down.

With work being set by schools and an impressive (if overwhelming) array of online facilities, families may be finding that there is more than enough to keep young children busy.  However, it may be a different story for older teens.  Those, in particular, in Year 11 or 13 have had to deal with a rather sudden and dramatic change in life with a shift in focus from the big exam push to, well, nothing! 

The following is by no means a list of how to parent your teen (who would be daft enough to think that they have got that sussed out!) or a list of resources.  Rather, it is some collective thoughts from parents of those who find themselves in this rather strange hinterland, attempting to help our young people maintain a feeling of purpose during lockdown. 

Do future you a favour

Focus on what you plan to move onto next.  What is it that you can be working towards that may give you a head start or make life easier when you move onto the next stage?  As well as the Oak National Academy and BBC resources for teaching or learning, for those moving onto academic studies learning to touch type or how to use programming skills such as Python, or statistical packages may be skills that you are thankful for in the future.  Unifrog and Futurelearn are just two examples of where a wide range of courses can be found, with companies such as JSTOR making their materials free online too. Vocational skills are also important.  Whilst it may not be possible to undertake practical activities think about complimentary skills such as basic maths that you may need or using packages such as photoshop or excel.  Read blogs or watch you tube videos in related areas as much as possible to give yourself a head start.

General life skills

Again, this is about doing future you a favour.  What skills are you going to be thankful that you have developed in a few years’ time?  Now may be a good time to start to brush up on the theory element of the driving test, learn how to change the oil, a wheel or even just top up the water in a car. If you have a bike, learn how to service and maintain this.  Perhaps you could practice making some basic meals?  Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 has some great ideas for getting inventive with what is left in the cupboard!  More confident cooks could ask for the family food budget for the week, write a meal list and shop for this.  If there are some tins of paint available learn how to paint and decorate your room, learn how to put up a shelf or a picture etc.  For those with the travel bug consider brushing up on language skills, plan a future trip abroad or explore types of temporary or volunteer work available overseas for when life starts to return to normal.  Think about how you want to live and what will help you to get there.

Be useful

Helping others is a great way to feel good!  Keep an eye out for local volunteer groups.  If it safe to do so you may want to spend some time helping out by doing food shopping or collecting medicines etc for those in isolation.  If your circumstances won’t allow this try setting up a regular email or facetime exchange with someone who is in isolation on their own.  Connections with younger children are great.  Perhaps you could video call younger relatives, children of friends or children that you babysit for and offer to read them a story, play a game or even listen to younger children reading to you.  You could help them to brush up on their football skills or offer help with school work.  More widely, you could research charities that need support, this doesn’t just have to be financial support, raising awareness can be vital to these groups too.

Stay active

Even the least sporty teen is used to a certain level of activity whilst at school or college and it is easy when out of normal routine to slip into a sedentary lifestyle.  Find what works for you whether it be Bollywood dancing, martial arts or couch to 5K.  The Joe Wicks PE sessions are designed for younger children but can be great fun for people of all ages.  Other celebrities such as Oti Mabuse and Davina McCall are both making materials available online.  Professional and amateur sports clubs have all been working hard publishing training suggestions and resources.  It may be that you find something in particular that you enjoy or that you try out a variety of new activities and develop a new hobby.

Stay connected

The things that us parents have moaned about for years really to come into their own at them moment.  Teens are great at connecting with friends via a number of platforms but remember that virtual face to face catch ups are just as important as sending messages.  You may have family members who are living in lonely conditions at the moment who would very much appreciate short, regular catch ups.

Do something you love

What is it you really enjoy?  Whether your passion lies in drawing, football, robotics it is important to maintain your interests and spend time doing something that you find really interesting, becoming absorbed in something that fascinates you on your own or through an online course can be very relaxing.  If music is your thing Whatsonlive.co.uk have a list of some free and some chargeable concerts or you could try dipping your toes into a new genre each week.  Many zoos such as Edinburgh and Dublin have set up online zoo tours if you love animals.  For readers, Amazon have increased their range of free books, e.g. through Audible.  Anyone who loves the theatre should take a look at Patrick Stewart reading #ASonnetADay on his Facebook Page.  The National Theatre showing various West End productions, the Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company have also made many performances available for free online.  Think about what it is that you love and how you can explore it in new ways. A simple google search of the name of your hobby pus the words ‘at home’ can unearth a treasure trove of ideas and activities

But be safe…

Online safety will be of particular importance currently.  Vodafone digital parenting, Thinkuknow, The Safer Internet Centre and Digizen are all great examples of websites providing information for educators, parents, carers, and young people about online safety.  More widely, whilst structure is good, imposing a schedule may only breed resentment, instead let your young person take charge of this for themselves.  If they can do a few aspects from some of the above themes it may help them to avoid drifting the days away in a haze of Snapchat/Instagram/XBOX  etc.  We can only hope!

Keep Calm and Carry on Learning – Part 6

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Need a new book?

In the sixth in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at a new storybook for key stage 2 pupils and how we can use it to excite and engage home learners.

Six weeks in …

… and there’s growing concern for children’s progress in reading becoming more apparent as home schoolers struggle not only to get time to sit and do reading, but also access new material children want to read. With school and local authority libraries closed, many families are having to put up with what’s on their own shelves. Some communities are organising street book swaps, or joining the local librarian for an online storytime, or a socially distanced friend or family member may be doing  a Zoom bedtime reading session.  All of these are great ways to inspire and enable reading moments. But are there any other books and how can we use them to engage children at home?

In April I was delighted to be part of the team from UWE, Bristol who received the Geographical Association’s silver publishing award for our book: DRY, the story of a water superhero. If you are in need of a new book for your collection, then this might be something you can enjoy at home –  we have got a free electronic version (in English and Welsh) you can access here: English Welsh.

This book is based on the conversations and findings of research in five river catchments across the UK drawing on experiences and memories of drought and water scarcity. We took some of these findings and wove them into a story about a girl in year 6 who needs to do a school project that sees the ups and downs of engaging in community action. This may have resonance with many young people who have been active in the climate strike protests.

The judges from the Geographical Association commented that the book found the perfect balance between powerful personal story line, excellent art work and delivering a range of geographical facts. They felt it would engage and empower our key stage 2 audience. If your young folk only want to look at the pictures then there is plenty to look at in Lucy-Gorrel Barnes beautiful and thought provoking illustrations.

In addition to the book, there are free teaching notes available here.

These notes are filled with challenging and engaging activities that include developing the concepts of ‘water footprints’ and ‘UK droughts’. They are designed to deepen children’s thinking and facilitate questioning, discussion and debate.

Join a free ‘Dry’ webinar on Thursday 21 May

While we would be delighted if you were to dip into these free resources, we would also like to invite you to a free webinar.

On 21st  May we are holding two, 45 minute sessions; one for parents / home educators (10:00-10.45 GMT) and one for teachers (11:00 – 11:45 GMT). During these sessions we will take you through how you might use the book at home and in school and offer some ideas about the kind of activities which we know engage and enable children to become creative, critical thinkers.

If you would like to take part in this free webinar please email : dry@uwe.ac.uk

We hope you enjoy this book and it offers a new reading moment for your children during lockdown.

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

Learning at home – what has previous educational research said?

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The closure of schools as a result of Covid 19 has led to many parents and carers having to take a greater role in their children’s education. Dr Jane Andrews, Associate Professor (Education) at UWE discusses a selection of published research articles which explore different aspects of learning at home for children in early years and primary education.

The arrival of Covid 19 has meant that home schooling or learning at home has been much discussed and there has been a sharing of ideas and experiences on social media and in news stories.  The stories have ranged from the serious, such as a consideration of the impact on children’s learning given different levels of parental time and access to resources, to the light-hearted, such as observations from parents or carers announcing “we’re having an INSET day today”. It is interesting to note that in his message to the French people about a partial return to normal living from 11th May, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, stated that the opening of nurseries and schools would be a priority. His rationale is a concern for children who do not have access to digital resources to continue their education at home who will be falling behind in their learning. The focus in France on children and their education at this time could lead us to pose questions such as:

  • what can parents or carers do to support their children’s learning at home?
  • what knowledge and resources are needed?
  • is learning with parents or carers the same or different from learning with peers and teachers?

No doubt there are many other questions besides these. However, long before this period of schools’ partial closure and children being given activities to do online or worksheets to complete at home, educational researchers have been exploring the roles of parents or carers in their children’s learning.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide a brief review and discussion of a selection of published research articles which address different dimensions of learning at home. The articles all refer to children in early years and primary education.

The full details of each article are given at the end of the blog post. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these articles in the comments section below this blog post and please share any articles or blog posts which have caught your attention at this time. You might wish to share your thoughts or research which looks at secondary age pupils and their learning out of school.

Learning with teachers or learning with parents and carers – same or different?  

In an article from 1998 Greenhough and Hughes reported on how parents or carers and teachers approached the task of listening to young children read (the children were aged between 5 and 7). Distinctive differences were noted between parents’ or carers’ and teachers’ ways of engaging with children as they read.  The researchers were careful not to judge which strategies were more effective but, rather, they teased out patterns of interaction evident in the transcripts of teachers and parents or carers talking to their children during reading. These patterns were possibly surprising. Parents or carers tended to focus their talk on helping children with decoding the words in the text. Teachers, on the other hand, used more “conversing”, a term used by the researchers to describe talking about the text as a whole, including linking the text with children’s own experiences. These different strategies might go against what we might expect. Wouldn’t we expect decoding and “getting it right” to be what’s done at school? Might we not imagine linking reading with shared life experiences to be more naturally done in the home environment?    

What might this research mean? The researchers suggest that it may be useful for children’s development as readers if parents or carers are supported in trying out a wider range of strategies when listening to their children read. The implication is that parents or carers would be better off not seeing themselves as “being the teacher” when listening to their child read. Instead, there are roles they can play which will be of benefit for children’s reading which also fit better with their relationship with their child. Chatting about texts and linking to shared experiences (e.g. talking about pictures and asking children about them) should not be undervalued or neglected when we are considering how to develop positive skills and dispositions in reading.

One-way traffic from school to home?

The next article I want to reflect on is by Jackie Marsh from 2003 and it explores the literacy practices (e.g. reading, imaginative play, mark making) of 3 and 4 year old children at home and compares whether these literacy practices overlap with the kinds of literacy activities and texts used at school. The first part of the article discusses a rich range of activities and engagement with text at home (as reported by parents) which all tended to revolve around popular culture and media texts e.g. play stimulated by TV programmes or characters from films such as Toy Story 2. Marsh’s discussion then moves onto considering the kinds of literacy activities these same children experienced when at nursery. The key difference appeared to be that the nursery was stocked with picture books which are described as “a canon of well-loved texts” but there were no popular culture books such as books based on Disney films or TV tie-in books. Does this difference matter? Jackie Marsh believes that it does and she suggests that children’s literacy experiences could be further supported if the texts they are familiar with and love at home could be acknowledged and included in their learning at nursery. The line of argument is that all literacy practices are valuable and should be shared across the settings of home and nursery. Conversely there is a message that educators should resist following a “one-way traffic” model of sending nursery books home without asking about or encouraging children to share what they engage with spontaneously in their homes.

The home as a learning environment

The final paper which I have been reflecting on recently comes from Iram Siraj-Blatchford who is known for her large scale, longitudinal studies into learning in the early years in homes and in early years settings and schools. The specific article I find fascinating was published in 2010 and explores the impact of children’s “home learning environment” on their later school achievement. This is a complex study but some key messages shine through regarding which activities are seen to be most beneficial for children and parents or carers to engage with at home.  The beneficial activities are (helpfully) simple ones and are as follows:

  • frequent story reading
  • trips to the library
  • playing with numbers
  • painting and drawing
  • being taught letters and numbers
  • singing songs
  • learning and reciting poems and rhymes

What can we conclude?

It is interesting to note that each of these 3 articles highlights how activities engaged with at home are very valuable for children’s learning in their own right. There is a value of a style of learning at home which is not just a mirror image of (teaching and) learning at school. Clearly we are in different times at the moment with enforced closure of schools and nurseries for many children, with parents and carers finding themselves leading or guiding learning at home and structuring the daily activities.

My concluding thought is that parents and carers should not necessarily feel they have to forget how they usually engage with their children and turn home life into a form of school. There will be continuing benefits for parents and carers to engage with their children in informal activities which they all want to give time to!

References

Greenhough, P. & Hughes, M. (1998) Parents’ and Teachers’ Interventions in Children’s Reading in British Educational Research Journal, 24/4, 383-398

Marsh, J. (2003) One-way Traffic? Connections between Literacy Practices at Home and in the Nursery in British Educational Research Journal, 29/3, 369-382

Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2010) Learning in the home and at school: how working class children ‘succeed against the odds’ in British Educational Research Journal, 36/3, 463-482

Photograph by Annie Spratt at Unsplash

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 5

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Planning for the post virus world…

In the fifth in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at how we need to think about preparing children for the post virus world and what skills we might need to brush up on.

Five weeks in …

 … and rain predicted. So far during lockdown in the UK we have been lucky enough to have had almost wall to wall sunshine. This has meant we can get our young folk outside – whether in the garden, park or street.  Chalk drawings now litter pavements and less congested roads are awash with children on bikes and scooters enjoying the cleaner air. It’s been reported that traffic has returned to levels reminiscent of the 1950s. However, as society becomes more mobile these will undoubtedly increase and with them the possibility of traffic incident.

Taking my daily exercise, glancing out of my window or making my way to the shops I have been delighted to see people reclaiming the streets. But over the last week  I have also witnessed an increase in children becoming complacent with what were normal safety procedures when crossing the road. The ‘stop, look, listen, think’ drill is being lost. In the post virus world, we all hope to return to sooner rather than later, this shift could see disastrous consequences. So, it is to this type of preparation for the future I want to focus on this week.

While in lockdown it is essential that we don’t forget to practice road safety skills. Think! have been delivering road safety campaigns for the last 20 years and offer a wealth of experience. For resources to use with children check here.  

With many children in Year 6  usually attending cycle training in the summer term, consider booking the Bikeability course they would have missed

 Sustrans is the largest sustainable transport charity in the UK and custodians of the National Cycle Network. You may well be using these routes while in lockdown, so why not check out the work they do to make Safer Routes to School . It might be something your school could get involved with post lockdown.

There are also all those other life skills – from how to make an emergency phone call and simple first aid, to keeping safe near water and being able to spot dangers in and out of the home. Again, these issues are often covered in school during the summer term, perhaps even with a visit to a Life Skills Centre where children get to explore different scenarios. While this hands-on, interactive approach isn’t possible at the moment, discussing these issues is. Helpful information to use with children can be found here.

While we need to keep safe from Covid19 now with social distancing and strict hand washing practices, we also need to prepare our children to be safe when this is all over.

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

“Labour need to commit to a comprehensive review of private education.”

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The problem of unfairness in the education system is now unavoidable. Labour must initiate a comprehensive review of the role of fee paying private schools. 

This should include the creation of an Office for private schools’ accountability, to monitor their public benefit and loss to the public.

In terms of a review, taxation must be a priority. Fee-paying private schools currently exploit a loophole exempting them from VAT on school fees. There is an oddity here: these schools are effectively run as private businesses, but enjoy special privileges from the state that other businesses do not.

The pendulum would shift with the introduction of VAT on school fees, and it would be state schools that benefit . With VAT at 20 per cent, there is an anticipated minimum of £1.75 billion that would be collected, a sum more than four per cent of the schools’ budget. This income would negate the cost of absorbing around five per cent more children in state schools.

The introduction of VAT has to be understood in the context of private schools paying just £44 million in business rates and corporation tax combined (2017), which is a massive “loophole” given their income of £7.83 billion.

Furthermore, the private schools’ lobby claim that private schools save taxpayers money; create a net wealth for the country’s economy; and that the cost of integrating private schools into the state set-up would practically and financially prohibitive. Unfortunately, it seems that a certain untruthfulness is often at play. Take for example an eye-catching front page headline in The Times: ‘Fee-paying schools ‘save the taxpayer £20 billion’. This is claim was dismissed by Full Fact, who show the calculation is miscalculated and/or designed to mislead.

In addition to VAT exemption, as charities, many private schools are exempt from corporation tax and almost all local taxes on property, but there is little stipulation beyond the general requirement: for free or subsidised access/places; developing links with grant making trusts so as to provide free services; lending equipment staff or facilities; and allowing state school pupils to attend certain lessons or events.

“There needs to be much more accurate and transparent reporting about private schools’ cost and benefit to the public”

However, are these generous general requirements enough to satisfactory their public benefit requirement, as charities?

There needs to be much more accurate and transparent reporting about private schools’ financial and social cost and benefit to the public, especially accruement from imposing VAT and removing charitable status.

This would be the objective of a comprehensive review, which could be undertaken by a Social Justice Commission (SJC) – tasked with advising Labour on integrating private schools, either fully or partially, into a National Education Service.

These changes would be long-term. The education system in the UK is complex because it is significantly stratified and differentiated. It is stratified because there are fee-paying selective private schools that are generally exclusive, and then there are the second stratum of schools that consist of state selective and comprehensive schools.

Importantly, within each of these two, there is significant differentiation among the schools. For fee-paying private schools, hierarchy can be discerned by fees, which range from £12k-£17,800 (the latter being the average ISC schools fee) up to £42,501 (Eton).

“Taxes could be introduced progressively in bands”

Taxes could be introduced progressively in bands to account for differentiation. Progressive taxation could also be introduced to break the feeder system of schools that entrench privilege through the pre-prep and prep schools’ network.

These schools are a pipeline to elite universities. To break this cycle of unfairness, progressive taxation could be extended to higher education in the form of university contextual admissions through levying a progressive admissions quota on universities.

One option here could be that the lowest ranked Russell group universities could admit a maximum of seven per cent of privately educated pupils to represent the same proportion of private school students as in the wider secondary school population, and the higher ranked to be able to progressively admit a lesser percentage.

Similarly, regulation and incentives around employing teachers could be introduced. For instance, consideration could be given to progressively incentivising private schools to employ state-educated teachers, the corollary would be to incentivise the privately-educated to teach in state school.

Such measures will likely mean that some private schools would game the system to pay lower taxation, some may even become fully state maintained, and a small minority would increase their fees to stay competitive in the exclusivity stakes. In the absence of an outright abolishing, these measures would rebalance the education system.

“The introduction of VAT ought to be the embryo for bigger changes”

The proposal of a National Education Service (NES) has an important prefix – “towards”, and the introduction of VAT to private schools fees ought to be the embryo for bigger changes to address unfairness.

In conclusion, a comprehensive review is needed for strategic short- and longer- term planning to create more egalitarianism in and through the education system. The review agenda could include, among others:

  1. creating a robust, accurate, and transparent reporting framework for private schools’ financial and social cost and benefit to the public, especially accrued from imposing VAT and removing Charitable status.
  2. exploring the feasibility of progressive taxes, regulation, and incentives to break entrenchment of elitism and privilege.
  3. creation of an Office for private schools’ accountability to monitor their public benefit and loss to the public.

Ultimately though, it must countenanced that a reformist ‘softly softly’ approach will not do, and a more strident revolutionary approach is needed to shake-off the shackles that private schools puts on life chances of working class pupils, females, BAME, and other minorities – ultimately, undermining equality.

Dr Alpesh Maisuria is associate professor of education policy in critical education at the University of the West of England. He writes widely about issues of social class, educational policy, neoliberalism and Marxism, as well the proposal of a nationalised education service; academy and free schools; private schools; Swedish social democracy and class.

Republished with kind permission from the independent think tank Private School Policy Reform

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 4

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Talking about values and developing heroes while at home.

In the fourth in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at how the Covid19 pandemic has provided opportunities to talk to young people about the kind of people they are and want to be.

Four weeks in …

The Easter holidays are now over and we are back at home school. The news is still  awash with ever increasing numbers of people suffering from the effects of the covid19 virus. However, amongst these horrors lie the good news stories – communities coming together to make a positive difference. Whether you’re nearly one hundred years old and you’re walking round your garden to raise money for the NHS, shopping for a vulnerable person or making PPE in your backroom; there have been thousands of stories of kindness that inspire the nation to carry on. So, now might be just the time to talk to our young learners about what it is to be a hero.

Children may well feel helpless in the current conditions and feel the possibility of being a hero too far removed from their everyday experience. Being a hero is not an easy journey where the road to heroism is simple, neat and easy without any problems or challenges. Being a hero does not necessarily mean grand acts, saving lives or raising oodles of money. Being a hero can start at home.

Last week I was delighted to receive the Geographical Associations Silver Award for the book I co-authored called DRY: The Diary of a Water Superhero. A free online copy of this picture book can be accessed here with associated teaching materials here.

This story tracks the life of a child in Year 6 and how she, bit by bit, works towards making a difference in her local community. The focus of her project is water usage; thinking about how we can save water and why would we want to anyway. She has lots of ideas and help on the way, but also suffers set backs, before becoming a water superhero.

Sharing this with your children may be a route in to thinking about how they can be heroes in their own home.

What is it that they could do?

It might be becoming the household Recycling Legend, Gardening Guru, Compost King or even Fashion Revolutionary – after all it is Fashion Revolution week this week and there are all sorts of activities going on across the world to help support a more sustainable supply chain. Checking out the clothes in your cupboard and sharing love stories about your favourite garments are all ways to raise awareness. Check out the Fashion Revolution website here for more details, or follow them on twitter or instagram

 Taking control and having a positive role to play can help support children’s well being as they continue their time at home, as well as help them to develop their moral compass.

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 3

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How do we help our children keep well during lock down?

In the third in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at how we can support our young people’s well being and mental health during the Covid19 pandemic.

Two weeks in …

Yes, schools are closed and learning is now being provided remotely. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg for millions of young people trying to make sense of their new world. The parks are locked, access to green spaces is restricted, extra curricula clubs and lessons have halted bar a few online alternatives, adults are at home (many with concerns over job security and finance), dinners are without usual foods, access to friends has all but dried up, people wear masks and gloves when they leave the house, domestic violence is on the rise and every media channel is pasted with rising death tolls as the invisible menace of Covid19 comes ever closer.

When the world seems to be going crazy we need to make sure we don’t forget to check in with our children. Are they okay? If the answer is no, what can we do and where do we go for help?

Structure can be a powerful tool in combatting anxiety. The structure of the school day and week has been taken away from our children. Think about how you can reinstate some of this. Have regular work, play and meal times. Try setting timers to keep everyone on track. The Pomodora strategy can work well as it chunks time into 25 minute doable chunks.

Healthy, regular meals are essential to keep a healthy mind. Cooking together can be a great time to talk to children while making something delicious to share. It doesn’t have to involve lots of ingredients, sharp knives and hot utensils. Check out the BBC who share 16 non cook ideas.

Or, start following great family friendly food writers like Claire Williamson and her 5 O’ clock Apron for tasty ideas

Talk is essential. Make the time to talk about what’s going on and how children are feeling. Reactions to the changes may result in physical, emotional or behavioural changes. Check out the government’s guidance on what to look for at different ages. Children might not want to talk to you about how they are feeling so finding routes to support is crucial. Childline is offering support for all children on their website and through their helpline (08001111). Last week the government gave key worker status to those working in this call centre in recognition of the need for this service. For 11-16 year olds think Ninja have updated their wellbeing app in light of Covid19.

Share some time together. Social distancing is not social isolation. Watch a film or play a game. How about trying something new and catch The Royal Opera House streaming Opera and Ballet performances during the outbreak via this website. Find out if you love or hate it and share those experiences!

Next week: apps that help reduce social isolation

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

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