Levelling the uneven playing field

Can society ever have a completely levelled out system of educational opportunity? It seems unlikely – given that it would need a sociological earthquake to remove those stubborn, historical lumps and bumps. Research shows that family background has always had a profound effect on educational success. Is it always going to be inevitable that children from more affluent backgrounds have the best chances in life? Are private schools always going to cream off the top layer of talent? Yes – probably.

But let’s not give up entirely. The Marcus Rashford focus on free school meals is a start to levelling out educational opportunity. Of course, we all agree that nutritious food improves learning. But support for children at the lower end of the economic spectrum needs to go further than school meals – because learning depends on far more than good food. To effect real change – support for the disadvantaged children must get to the heart of the problem – not just the stomach. In other words, we must start to CARE.

Research has always shown that parents matter when it comes to educational success. It starts with the view that education is important – as the gateway to jobs and life in general. Parents who see schooling as of prime educational importance are more likely to read to their children, oversee their homework and ensure that they have everything that is needed to succeed at school.

Effective parenting must always be the driving force behind any attempt to ‘level up’ education and reduce disadvantage. Labour’s (1998) Sure Start children’s centres went a long way in the right direction: these were set up to reduce inequalities by providing integrated services for children of nursery age and their families. Parents received help with anything connected to good parenting – from breast feeding to helping young children with spoken language. The original focus on parents of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities has become partly submerged since the initiative widened to include facilities for all children of nursery age. Since 2010, many of these centres, largely operated by Local Authorities, have closed due to pressures on funding.

What now? The last nine months of lockdown have caused many disadvantaged children to fall even further behind in their learning. Findings show that more affluent parents have been four times more likely to pay for private tutoring than poorer ones. No surprise there. The gap is sure to widen even further, especially as some children from disadvantaged families are still being kept away from school, because of the pandemic.

Enter Family Hubs – as Local Authority services working together: an initiative which aims to go beyond the Sure Start early years: to support parents who need it with the challenges that emerge during primary and secondary education. The idea of combined services for families, designed to ensure that no family falls between the cracks, is far from new.

So what might be the challenges for some parents? These could be anything: dealing with bullying, school attendance, coping with bereavement, healthy eating or helping children with learning at home – in fact, anything that could impact negatively on a child’s education.

During lockdown, and especially now when a second one is imminent, the likelihood of more parents ending up without jobs has expanded – with the potential for tension and conflict in many households. The issue is not just about putting food on the table. It is about well-being: helping vulnerable families to get through this period of economic as well as social deprivation.

Realistically we may never level out the educational playing field entirely – but the Family Hub strategy can go a long way to prevent the gap from widening any further – and may even reduce it.

My books for parents will help. If your child has SEND, Book 1: Support Your Child with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: a guide for parents, offers all you need to know about the SEND system. Books 2 to 5: Support Your Child At The Early Years Foundation Stage, At Key Stage One, At Key Stage Two and At Key Stage Three, also offer a comprehensive outline of WHAT should be taught, WHEN and HOW. They are available from Lulu or Amazon, written by Sylvia Edwards.

These guides are a must for any parent seeking know-how – in order to play a more effective role in their child’s education.

« Back to Blog