Raise aspiration to end social injustice

Raise aspiration to end social injustice

Growing up in a working-class household in Kent I could never have envisaged that one day I’d be advising ministers on the education of our children.

My mother was a cleaner who left school at 12 and my father was a railway guard. Neither were educated but both encouraged me to do the very best I could at school and beyond.

And it was thanks to education that I’ve enjoyed a fulfilling career as a teacher, author and company director, a career which led to being asked to advise the government on the National Curriculum in 2013.

This is why I am filled with great sadness when I know that today, working-class children are being failed by the system.

Last November it was revealed that just 24% of white working-class boys had achieved the benchmark five GCSEs A* to C including English and Maths.

White working-class girls did marginally better with 32% of them achieving that standard but that is still a derisory number.

Even compared to other working-class groups, the white working classes are the biggest underachievers.

In 2013 28% of White British boys eligible for free school meals achieved the GCSE benchmark, compared to 37% of Caribbean boys, 43% of Pakistani boys and 57% of Indian boys.

For children from a Chinese background, there was a negligible difference between those on free school meals and those who are not, with 77% and 78% respectively achieving the GCSE benchmark.

Our education system needs a radical overhaul if we are to prevent generations of white working-class children from being unable to reach their potential – and all of us have a part to play.

Firstly we need to be more aspirational as a nation.

We should be optimistic and focus on what can be achieved rather than what might go wrong.

And we need to accept that elitism is not a dirty word.

Primary education needs to be overhauled. The curriculum needs to be more robust and challenging even though there were a number of laudable improvements in the government’s recent overhaul.

When I taught at a comprehensive school I had 11 year-olds coming to my lessons who could barely read or write – scandalous after six years of education.

Not every child will be academic but every child needs to grasp the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy to succeed in any chosen path.

Primary schools need to engage parents in their children’s education so they too feel more aspirational about their son or daughter and have the confidence to support them at home.

Earlier intervention is also needed at the outset of a child’s education.

As soon as child is identified as struggling in literacy or numeracy targeted support should be given to them.

At secondary school level, grammar schools can be part of the solution.

If we’re going to build more grammar schools let’s open them in deprived areas first where bright working-class children will be guaranteed a place.

Working-class children that do get into grammar schools are shown to perform ten points better than those that stay at comprehensives.

However, let’s not forget children who are bright in other ways. For too long we have placed great emphasis on the single measure of performing academically and ignored the fact that children can demonstrate their ability in practical ways too.

Not everyone can be academic and we need more vocational colleges for 14 to 19 year-olds that are treated in equally high regard as grammar schools.

We will only succeed as a nation if we harness all of our talents and not just the talents of the few.

If there were more grammar schools they would be seen as the norm rather than the extraordinary, preventing the bun fight of the most affluent trying to secure the few current grammar places for their children. And if we had more high-quality schools that could train children vocationally they wouldn’t be regarded by some as second rate compared to a more academically orientated education.

The comprehensive one-size-fits-all system has failed generations of working-class children.

Instead, let’s recognise there’s talent in us all and it’s our job as educators to harness and provide the tools for that talent and give children from all backgrounds the aspiration to succeed.