In 2011, I founded Achievement for All, a charity that has engaged in partnership with almost 5,000 settings, schools and colleges in the co-delivery of the Achievement for All programme aimed at improving outcomes for children with special educational needs and those experiencing disadvantage.
In the Achievement for All pilot study, Professor Neil Humphrey and his colleagues illustrate the impact of leadership, teaching, parent and carer engagement, and wider opportunities (social and cultural) on improving the educational outcomes of pupils identified with special educational needs in 454 schools across England. A five year longitudinal study by PwC (2016) reports the profound impact of the programme on 100,000 targeted children (special educational needs and disadvantaged) in over 2,500 schools, improving outcomes in reading, writing and maths up to 50% above national expectations. In short through the programme, leaders, teachers, parents and carers had made a difference on improving academic outcomes of disadvantaged children.
The range of evidence demonstrated above and the reality of academic success, questions the balance between the influence of environmental factors and those pre-determined by genetics, particularly for those children from low socio-economic backgrounds This evidence also questions the implication that it is only through a greater understanding of neuro science and related advancements in technology and pharmaceutical interventions that we will resolve the prevailing inequality in education. I suggest that the solution is societal and that we should engage in a new way of thinking to address the greatest injustice of today – working class social mobility.
There is no evidence that the working class cannot achieve – in education, employment, housing and health. There is also no evidence that the working class are any less likely to have a desire for success than others. What there is, though, a lack of societal ambition outside those spurious targets (like university entry) that only concern 50 per cent of the population at best. To increase ambition for the working class there needs to be a mutual understanding of what is available in terms of alternatives, and engagement with the working class about what they actually want. By talking and listening ambitions can be shared – a do with rather than do to approach.
There is also no evidence that the attainment gap cannot be closed for all children, regardless of background, challenge or need. The key to change in education is to engender self-belief, building the core in every child at the earliest stages of their development through Aspiration, ‘I can’, Access, ‘I do, Attainment, ‘I have’, and Achievement, ‘I am’. Success that is determined by environment rather than pre-determined by genetics.
That said, rather than reducing the chances of failure within the working class over the last forty years, we have increased the possibility in housing, education and social care. This should not have happened, nor should it be allowed to continue. Back in 1973 authors of the National Children’s Bureau Born to Fail? report referenced Tawney, ‘The continuance of social evils is not due to the fact that we do not know what is right, but that we prefer to continue doing what is wrong. Those who have the power to remove them do not have the will, and those who have the will have not, as yet, the power’. The power rests within us all. With new thinking, mutuality, respect and collaboration working class children can succeed from birth, at school in post 16 study and in the workplace. Valuing every member of society as an equal, rather than a path to success that is determined by one social class for another.
Ultimately, it is about taking responsibility, owning a shared moral purpose, shared ambition and integrity that can provide the opportunities and resources needed for all children and their families to achieve. This is social justice in action, and possibly, social mobility that really works. If we are to discover a lasting solution, and ensure social justice as a result, we need to come up with some new thinking and not repeat familiar actions of the past. And we need to recognise, that we all have a part to play that will ensure every child across the country should have a choice, an opportunity, and a secure future. And if they’re given it, every single one of us will benefit.