A University View - Dr Russell Grigg, WCEE

Posted on 11 December 2014

Over recent years, particularly during a tight economic climate, there has been a growing interest in effective and value-for-money practice across the public sector. In Wales, such interest has seen the setting up of the Public Policy Institute for Wales, the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD, including WISERD Education) and the Wales Centre for Equity in Education (WCEE). The latter was established in 2013 by the University of Wales and University of Wales Trinity Saint David, as a national policy and applied research centre, dedicated to improving educational equity in Wales.

The need for such a Centre is clear given the prevailing inequities in Wales. Outside of London, Wales has the highest level of child poverty in the UK – affecting around 1 in 3 children. According to official Welsh government statistics, only one in four 15-year-olds entitled to free school meals (a common indicator of poverty) achieve expected standards compared with six out of 10 of their more affluent peers.

The Centre’s most recent research focuses on what schools in some of the most disadvantaged areas are doing to reduce the impact of poverty on pupils’ achievement. And we have found some good news. There are examples throughout Wales of schools and community partnerships that are making a big difference in narrowing the achievement gap. They share three key characteristics.

First, they are very well led. Leaders, at all levels, demonstrate a ‘no excuses’ attitude and the self-belief that they can make a significant difference to the educational outcomes achieved by every child. They use data to monitor performance and set realistic targets, hold high expectations (of staff and pupils) and succeed in creating a culture where all are valued.

Second, pupils are well taught. Teachers make lessons interesting, relevant and challenging. They are good role models and give clear feedback. The curriculum builds on what pupils already know and effective ‘catch-up’ support is given, where necessary, to strengthen basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

Third, strong ties are forged with parents and the wider community. This isn’t always easy. Some parents have negative attitudes to school, often borne out of their own experiences. We found that the effective schools break down barriers and worked with parents, on issues such as improving their own basic skills and their children’s attendance. They do simple things to celebrate success with parents, such as ringing home with good news about their children’s achievements so that parents do not automatically equate school contact with ‘a problem.’ Leaders also establish partnerships with businesses and others in the community to enrich pupils’ learning experiences. For example, at Ysgol Uwchradd Tywyn children benefit from events sponsored by the Rotary Club such as ‘Young Chef’ and ‘Young Musician of the Year.’

So there is good news. The case studies in our report clearly show others what can be done to reduce the effect of poverty on educational achievement.

Dr Russell Grigg
Executive Head of Research at the Wales Centre for Equity in Education

This article was published in the Western Mail on Thursday the 11th of December, 2014.

The Good News…What schools in Wales are doing to reduce the impact of poverty on pupils’ achievement is due to be published shortly and will be available on the Centre’s website.

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